Leaving a Long-Term Job Takes Courage, Especially If You're a Woman

As more time is spent in a position, anticipation about what else is out there dwindles.

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By Ashley Milne-Tyte Originally published Aug 25, 2014

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A former Etsy employee recently got me thinking about something I hadn't articulated, although I'd lived it: women are likelier than men to stick around in jobs they've outgrown.

Danielle Maveal worked for Etsy when it was a true startup. The company grew rapidly and she eventually felt she no longer fit in. She wanted to go out on her own, but after five years she couldn't bring herself to leave.

Among her excuses: "They need me," "This place is like family," "This job is my identity," and "I owe it to the company to be here." Then there were other people's opinions, including her mom's: "You'd be crazy to leave that great job with its salary and health care -- you should be grateful!"

That last comment reflected her own feeling that she was lucky to have the job, which, in turn, echoes what a lot of us know: women are expected to be grateful for whatever we have. We excel at saying how "lucky" we are to have achieved one thing or another. We're meant to be pleasant and put up with stuff. That doesn't always lend itself to taking risks.

Related: Passion, Persistence and Red Lipstick

Men probably stay in unrewarding jobs for some of the same reasons. It's tough for anyone to make a break and walk into the unknown. Still, for many women, the self-belief that spurs entrepreneurs to action is harder to come by.

A friend recently left her own corporate job to run a résumé revamp business. She says her female clients' biggest hurdle is the fear of leaving their current jobs.

I can relate. After almost a decade of occasional reporting on women and work issues for public radio, I decided to give the topic the attention it deserved and wasn't getting.

I started my own podcast, The Broad Experience. Finding guests, recording shows and doing good journalism was second nature, but when it came to entrepreneurship and investing time and money in my own brand, putting the focus on myself was immeasurably harder.

The research on quitting. Terri Boyer, executive director of Rutgers University's Center for Women and Work, says research shows that in the initial months of a new job, men and women quit in almost equal numbers -- with women slightly likelier to leave than men (this is often related to a sudden change in family responsibilities).

"However, as women stay in a job for a longer period of time," she says, "they are less likely than their male counterparts to leave."

The longer both sexes stay with an employer, the more their expectations sink. Long tenure comes with dwindling anticipation about what else is available.

Related: You'll Never Guess Where Female Entrepreneurship Is On the Rise (Infographic)

"But gender adds to that," Boyer says. "So women tend to lower those standards even more as to what's out there."

There's also a real fear about money and the risk of leaving without another salary around the corner. Women still earn less than men and money concerns influence their decision to stay put.

Boyer says child rearing is another factor: If women find a position that fits well with the rest of their life, they tend to stick with it. A 2014 study shows that married mothers have experienced the greatest leap in job tenure of any other group in the U.S.

Here are a few suggestions for action if you're itching to move on but fear the consequences:

  • Get serious about getting out of there. If you want to start a business, stop talking about it and start doing it, either before or after work or during weekends.
  • Save money. You would be nuts to quit without either some savings or the ability to freelance, or both.
  • Believe in yourself and the skills you have gained on the job. When you've been in one place for a long time it's easy to glaze over some of what you've learned. Don't underestimate what you've achieved over the years, and how you can parlay that into a new business. If necessary ask others to remind you of those achievements. Have friends make sure your LinkedIn profile is saying everything it should.
  • Women tend to invest a lot in our relationships. Often that includes work relationships. This can make quitting tough. Your co-workers are not your family though. Don't let the desire for comfort and continuity overcome the urge to make the leap.

Think about who you want to be. As a journalist it was tough for me to walk away from a long-term gig at a well-known national radio show and be just me, with no affiliation. Who was I if I wasn't that reporter? But cultivating my own brand has been a worthwhile process. By starting my own show on a favorite topic, women in the workplace, I now stand for something I care deeply about -- a satisfaction I never had in my previous roles.

Related: Why It Is Important to Teach Girls About Entrepreneurship

Ashley Milne-Tyte

Host of The Broad Experience

Ashley Milne-Tyte is a public-radio reporter and host of The Broad Experience, a podcast on women and the workplace.

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