|The Opt-Out Revolt:
Why People Are Leaving Companies to Create Kaleidoscope Careers
by Lisa Mainiero and Sherry Sullivan
|What do you mean by a"Kaleidoscope Career"?
A Kaleidoscope Career is a career created on an individual's own terms, defined not by
a corporation but by the values and life choices of the individual. Like a kaleidoscope,
careers are dynamic and in motion; as people's lives change, they alter their careers to
adjust to these changes rather than relinquishing control and letting a corporate
career track make changes for them. Consider the working of a kaleidoscope; as one
part moves, the other parts change. Unlike men, women understand any decision they
make creates changes in other's lives around them. Like a kaleidoscope that produces
changing patterns when the tube is rotated and its glass chips fall into new
arrangements, women shift the patterns of their careers by rotating different aspects
of their lives to arrange their roles and relationships in new ways. Women evaluate the
choices and options available through the lens of the kaleidoscope to determine the
best fit among their relationships and work constraints/opportunities. As one decision
is made, it affects the outcome of the kaleidoscope pattern. So a woman may back off
on a global assignment when her children are little, but push for an assignment later
when they are off in college. She may push for career challenges in her twenties and
thirties, but in her forties opt-out to take care of her children, but in her fifties decide
she wants to develop her own business or pursue her passion for painting.
Are women motivated by different factors at different points in their careers?
We found women develop "Kaleidoscope Careers" based on three life parameters:
authenticity, balance, and challenge ( The ABC's of a Kaleidoscope Career). Consider
that women have three aspects of their kaleidoscopes: 1) the need for authenticity, or
the need to be genuine, true to themselves, 2) the need to balance their relationships,
and 3) the need for challenge and career ambition. In early career, women seek
challenge and career ambition in their jobs. When those needs are fulfilled, mostly
anyway, in mid-career, at the time they have a family, the issue of balance rises to the
ascendancy, causing them to eclipse the need for challenge. This is the point when
women opt-out. They already have fulfilled needs for challenge, so they focus on
rebalancing their lives. When needs for balance are fulfilled, women return to the
workforce, asking: "Is that all there is to life?" We found many strong women in midlife
who started their own businesses, or pursued their passions, saying, "Hey, now I have
time to reinvent myself. This is MY time."
What about men?
Men also follow a Kaleidoscope Career pattern, but in a different order. We found the
primary pattern for most men was the desire to experience challenge first in their
careers, and then focused on the parameter of authenticity in their forties. Later in
midlife many men were more interested in adding balance to their lives. But we found a
second pattern for men as well - younger men were more interested in issues of
balance as well as challenge and authenticity from the beginning of their careers, and
then again throughout their lives.
How do people balance their careers and family lives?
We found some contemporary strategies for balance :
1. The adjusting pattern, where women sacrifice their career challenges for the sake of
2. The consecutive approach, in which women opt-out for a short period of time and
then re-enter the workforce later (typically to earn college tuition for their kids)
3. The concurrent approach, in which couples try to have it all and do it all, constantly
struggling to balance career and family every day, with attendant struggles thereof
4. The alternating approach, in which one member of the couple ratchets up their work
intensity while the other bides their time, and then it reverses, taking turns,
5. The synergistic pattern, in which the woman has a life situation in which she can
easily balance work and home life issues (for example, a woman professional who has
one of the new mobile technology jobs in the workforce in which she is expected to
take global calls from around the world at 11 pm but can do so from home and can
leave work early to attend child's soccer game).