The Traveling Lane
There have been many articles and books popping up on the topic of women on- and off-ramping from careers - for example, the article linked in our last blog entry about how companies and business schools are catering to the educational needs of women at the on-ramping stage.
We think of ESP as advocating neither on- or off-ramping. Instead, equal sharing advocates both parents changing lanes. With actual career exits and entrances, there are all the difficulties inherent in starting and stopping - loss of business contacts, knowledge gaps, reputations as 'quitters' to live down, etc. But if you never actually get off the highway, you stay connected with your career and your network of career support.
Lives have stages. There's the fast lane for when you are proving yourself, moving up the learning curve, establishing your reputation in your career. You may work full-time+ in these years and with any luck your family situation will allow this (e.g., you are childless).
Then there are the periods when you are raising young children or caring for an elderly parent, and you change to the traveling lane. You slow down a bit at work, perhaps even reducing your hours below full-time, but still remain productive. You keep the mindset that the passing lane is always there. If a slow car (colleague) gets in your way, you can switch temporarily to the fast lane, pass him up, and return to the traveling lane; you can also speed up for big project deadlines, occasional business trips or overtime requests. Here, you are still a fully active participant in your career and an engaged worker for your company. You aren't in the exit lane and you aren't on cruise control - images that connote laziness or lack of enthusiasm for your work.
There may also be periods of crisis when you find yourself in the breakdown lane. But you stay on the highway - the workforce that allows you to remain a financially independent, externally productive, and balanced individual.
I would love to see careers bend and adapt to these periods, just as drivers move in and out of the lanes of a highway. The on-ramps and off-ramps are still there if we really need them, but if two parents can share in the work of childraising (or other responsibilities), we won't need them nearly as often.