As a woman in the technology field, I'm excited to see that the tech gender gap is gradually narrowing - with online work helping to support a satisfying career path throughout the different phases of our lives.
A working mother myself, I too experienced the stress so many women feel in trying to balance work and family. However, I also differed quite a bit from many mothers, as I was already a VP at eBay when I had my child. Also I had the advantage that my husband works from home. This allowed me a level of professional, personal and financial flexibility few women have. For example, a few years back as I was returning from the office at 11 pm after yet another day of not seeing my son during his waking hours, I decided to step back and take a five-month hiatus from my job. This break, spent with my small family travelling the Southwest by camper and helping my son learn how to play soccer and swim, is something I will cherish forever. When I returned to work, I actually started in a more senior role with agreed upon "on/off" times.
However, as I looked around me, I noticed that many other mothers experiencing similar stress levels were simply abandoning their careers. Sheryl Sandberg notes this unfortunate trend in her best-selling book Lean In, where she explains that 43% of highly qualified women with children are at some point taking leave of their full time jobs. The fact is, we were losing many of the best minds in technology simply because women were unable to meet, to their own satisfaction, the demands of both a career and a family.
But what to do about it? For me personally, a few years ago I began mentoring women to help them achieve more success in their careers. But I must admit my guidance was hit and miss. Given my personal circumstances, my "secrets to success" simply weren't applicable to many women in the workforce.
What I kept seeing were women who wanted to progress, but they found that the strains on their families from a 50+ hour week simply weren't worth the frustration or paycheck. And if they did stay on the job, women were not feeling good about it.
Given these mixed emotions, it's no wonder today's growing movement to online work and freelancing is such an exciting development. Now women who want to continue working while spending time with their children can find jobs that allow them to not only make money, but continue developing their skills and remain competitive - especially important if they plan to re-enter the workforce fulltime. Freelancing and online work can help prevent women who decide to "fallback" from falling off the career ladder forever.
At the online workplace Elance, where I'm now VP of Operations, there are a plethora of technology jobs in many different areas from which to choose. A recent global survey of 7,000+ freelancers on Elance shows that women are as optimistic as I am about the future of online work. The study reveals that online work allows women more opportunities and offers a greater diversity of projects, keeping their skills relevant and sharp.
Today as I continue my mentoring with young women and girls, I can now tell them that yes, technology is a great career option because it can accommodate our changing life priorities. Although there is still much work to be done, I am optimistic. With online work there is now the freedom and flexibility to build and maintain an engaging tech career and have a happy family life. It's a work/life balance that is worth a little extra celebration on Mother's Day.