I’ve been interviewing Millennial women – the women just entering the workforce or in their first jobs out of school – about their expectations and experiences of the workplace. Much like their male counterparts – and the Gen Xers before them – they want to know what a potential employer can do to help them further their careers. But these women are often also open to thinking about their careers in a non-linear way.
I was introduced to a non-linear career model many years ago by one of my earliest mentors. He, in turn, had learned it from his mentor, Kiyo Morimoto, a Japanese-American who saw his family and friends spend time in an internment camp in Idaho while he fought with the US Army in Italy during World War II — that experience taught him to accept the various twists and turns that life takes and to find the beauty and learning in all things.
Using Kiyo’s metaphor, rather than looking at career progression as a ladder where one rung is higher than the other, it may be wise to think of our careers – in fact, our whole lives – as flowers where each petal is a valuable thing in itself. This is the approach that many Millennial women are taking today.
In the ladder model of career development, if you’re not going up, you’re not progressing. In the flower model, everything you add to your learning, to your experience, to yourself is a worthwhile thing. As companies reduce hierarchies and expand the breadth of jobs, being able to find fulfillment by adding petals rather than climbing rungs will be an important skill in living a satisfying life.
My colleague Jon Glesinger, the founder of gleXnet, refers to this model as a “portfolio life.” In a portfolio, each aspect is important: job changes, friendships, family, personal growth, fitness. The weight of or emphasis on these different aspects will change over time but they all add to a full “portfolio life”.
So who’s responsible for career development? An employer owes it to employees to create an environment that fosters development and to provide the tools that enable new skills or deeper knowledge. But the burden is on the individual employee to take advantage of these tools and to be realistic about the fact that organizational pyramids get skinny at the top…there’s only one job for the CEO and only one person can have it at a time.