Lack of career planning hurts professional women

by Mar 7, 2014

Career planning is something professional women must do, NOW!

No career planning hurts professional women

No career planning hurts professional women

If I received a notional Euro (or any other currency) for every woman who contacted me in varying levels of emotional distress about their careers, it would provide a pretty nice revenue stream. The queries cover the whole range issues on the transition spectrum: career gaps, skill set deficits, feeling stuck, underpaid and unappreciated, financial worries following divorce, widowhood, or facing retirement or redundancy.

The consistent underlying theme whether the women are responding to a specific crisis or a general feeling of malaise and discontent is a lack of a career plan or strategy and forward planning to their transition processes. This can be attributed to minimal personal insight and simply having no goals at all, or a failure to communicate those goals to their employers or even their partners.

What is a major differentiator with men in the same situation? They want to vent rather than to step back and invest in creating a practical career strategy (whether time, energy or professional support) which is hurting them long-term.


3Plus recently carried out a research project in the international MBA community with Megan Jones, to identify skill set deficits which act as barriers to women’s career advancement. These women should be at the very top of the business academic pyramid, but in fact, the preliminary results reinforced our anecdotal observations. Interestingly as you can see in the graphic below, both men and women identified the two main barriers to career success for  professional women to be:

  • Negotiation skills
  • Career strategy and planning.

Men placed career planning and strategy in top place and women placed it second. So although women MBA graduates can tell you everything anyone needs to know about corporate capital budgeting and valuation and not forgetting business strategy, seemingly they are not perceived to be applying those learned elements to themselves and their own careers.

Additional research indicated that only 16% of women had a clear to mid-term plan compared to 83% of their male colleagues.
3Plus Chart_Q4_140223

In recent research on work-life balance, published in the Harvard Business Review, Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams identified some intriguing gender differences about how men and women view professional success. Women they said “place more value than men do on individual achievement, having passion for their work, receiving respect, and making a difference, but less value on organizational achievement and ongoing learning and development”.

A UK newspaper tells us what women spend on make-up in a lifetime and a recent chart by Goldman Sachs shows  us how much women of different age groups spend on clothes every year. Women in their twenties and thirties spend more on clothes, peaking at 45-year-to spend as a group $750 billion annually. Do these women collectively invest that much in their professional development – I suspect not.

Life and balance without work can come back to bite us

Dilbert  quips “The secret to having a work-life balance is to have no life.” but balance without work can leave women exposed in changing times,  as many find to their detriment the exact long-term cost of complacency and a lack of strategy.

Cornelia is in her mid 40s. She has a degree from an US Ivy League school, and was a high-flying marketing specialist for a fortune 500 company. She took a parenting gap to raise her two children and thought she might return to work when the boys were “older.” In the meantime her marriage of 15 years has ended in divorce. She finds herself  in difficult financial circumstances, trying to get back into the job market with a ten-year gap in a field which has been revolutionised by technology.  “I am kicking myself for my naivety” she told me. “I thought marriage was forever and I would be able to pick up my career,  perhaps not where I left off, but somewhere close. I was very wrong. I have now gone back to school to learn about social media and all the developments that have taken place in my field. I am getting into significant debt and will have to sell the house to cover all my costs.  My ex husband has been made redundant and the only support I get is for the children. It nowhere near covers my outgoings. In his court case he said I made a personal life-style choice to give up my job and raise our children personally.” 

Sonia a lawyer, left the workforce to follow her husband’s international corporate career and raise their daughter who has an acute learning difficulty. Her husband is now seriously ill and has taken early retirement. She is anxious to return to work. The only jobs she is even interviewed for are low paid and for others she is simply over qualified. “I’m completely stuck” she said “and I’m not sure what the solution is.”

It was therefore refreshing to work with Maria from the seventh month of her pregnancy onwards to create a career strategy to ensure a smooth transition during  and following her maternity leave. Taking a leaf out of Marissa Meyer’s book she wants to position herself for a promotion on her return to work. This requires some additional study which she will fit around the new baby’s schedule. Maria has a P.L.A.N.  (Purpose, Learn, Articulate and Name.) We sat down and created short and medium term goals with a specific strategy to achieve those goals.

In an era where we are all urged to become the CEO of Me,  women who do not identify their goals, and draw up a strategy to meet them, can find themselves vulnerable and unprepared further down the line.

So do you want to be prepared? Contact 3Plus for a complimentary Zoom call to assess your career needs.



Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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