Category Archives: Career Opportunities

What Do Women (and Men) Want From Work?

More Magazine Great Careers 2011 Virginia Sole-Smith

Yesterday I brought you up to speed on some of my recent writings, but I saved this one for its very own post because it’s a bit more of a thinker. 10 Great Careers for Women Who Want a Life is online now and ran in the November issue of More Magazine.

As part of our research for this story, the More editors commissioned a survey of 500 professionally employed women (aged 35 to 60 with at least a college degree, and annual household incomes starting at $60,000 to $75,000) to find out what women want out of careers today —  and the results were pretty surprising. In a word: Flexibility, which 92 percent of women say is important in a job (second only to salary) — up from 73 percent in 2009. 43 percent of survey participants also said that they are less ambitious now than they were ten years ago; 73 percent said they don’t want their boss’s job.

But this isn’t yet another story about women opting out of the workforce or being unable to have it all. Because what our research showed — and what my own very unscientific surveys of friends and myself confirm — is that women are still ambitious as hell, but we’re defining ambition differently and more holistically now. For starters, I’d venture the possibility that anybody saying they’re less ambitious now than they were a decade ago has just been really efficient about getting sh*t done… she may have checked a bunch of things off her professional to do list and be feeling like she’s made the mark she wanted to make in the world. And I sure prefer on that glass-half-full interpretation over the glass-half-empty idea that women are giving up on trying to achieve their dreams because it’s all just gotten too hard.

This research says they haven’t — it’s just that the dreams have changed. A lot of women (and, I’m pretty sure, men too, if we’d asked ’em!) don’t want the corporate America definition of ambition and success — corner offices and big paychecks that come with crazy hours, pressure and politics. 65 percent of women surveyed said it’s more important to have time in their life than to make more money at their job. Women do want rewarding, challenging careers, plus time to be with their families and time to pursue their own interests and passions —  in other words, they want a life. (Hence, our headline.)

Which I think sounds pretty cool and exciting. Most of my friends are a tad younger than the women More surveyed. We’re still piecing together what ambition means to us, what we want out of life and whether those goals conflict or can possibly support each other. And we worry a lot about how to have careers and families. Because this kind of ambition is new — we don’t have a ton of role models for doing it precisely this way. Especially since the recession, we’re more used to seeing women who are stretched too thin, doing too much and not really loving any of it. Over on Eat the Damn Cake, Kate wrote about being haunted by an invisible baby last week and sparked a fascinating comment thread of women at all different stages of the game sharing their perspectives on such matters. A lot of us are hella nervous about the whole thing. To which I want to offer this reassurance, via the More women:

Household or childcare demands have prevented 16 percent of woman from trying to advance in their careers. But 53 percent say those demands have never gotten in their way.

I mean, it’s only a tiny majority — and 31 percent of women apparently didn’t advance for other reasons? — but I feel like I can deal with those odds.

But there was some bad news in the More survey, too: 33 percent of women agree that at most companies, employees with flexible schedules are promoted less often than employees who work regular hours. Yeah. It’s one thing to decide for yourself that you’re ready to boldly go into these uncharted “new ambition” waters. It’s another to convince your boss that it will all work out if you’re still in corporate America. Especially because 54 percent of the women surveyed said that other women had never helped them advance in their careers.

54 percent! That number is so depressing. Apparently I’m part of a (lucky) minority because I have other women to thank for virtually all of my career. So ladies, listen up: We need to be doing way better here. Women aren’t helping women nearly enough and unfortunately, I think this new ambition concept can actually get in the way, because it becomes one of those questions (like SlutWalks) that divide young feminists and old feminists. Women who fought really hard to get out of the kitchen and into the boardroom don’t understand why women today want to be in both rooms.

And that’s where we need to take this whole conversation past gender altogether — because workplace flexibility isn’t just a way of keeping working moms sane. (Here’s proof: The women in the More survey were even more likely to say they’d take flexibility over a bigger paycheck if they were single!) But as long as we keep making this a women’s issue, it will remain an easy to dismiss window dressing kind of concern that employers can use to divide employees into their definition of “ambitious” and “successful” or not. When the fact is, flexibility is something women and men want because it creates a more employee-friendly culture that’s better for everyone (employers, too).

So here’s the good news: There are some industries that have already gotten this memo. Which brings me back to 10 Great Careers for Women Who Want a Life — and men too (they just don’t read More). In case you’re already charting your way out of your current inflexible work existence and need some ideas.

Thoughts? Do you feel like our idea of ambition has changed? How much do you value flexibility in your career — and do you have as much of it as you want or need? 

PS. Ooh, plus the whole project has been generating some nice media buzz: Check out my editor, the incomparable Jennifer Braunschweiger (see above re: women helping women with careers!) on the CBS Early Show and MSNBC, talking through the data. Meanwhile, I got  a shout-out from this Chicago Sun Times blogger, though wow, do I think she misinterpreted the story’s takeaway message. Women naturally derive more satisfaction from their home life while men naturally care more about work? That kind of reductionist thinking is helping exactly nobody, male or female.

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Filed under Career Opportunities, Glossed Over., Press

Is Sexual Harassment the New Normal?

ivillage herman cain virginia sole-smith

We interrupt our regularly scheduled beauty & body issues talk once again, this time to discuss the insanity that is Herman Cain and his inability to behave appropriately around women. So I guess, in a way, it’s still a body issue — especially if you factor in the way conservative pundits are going after Sharon Bialek’s obviously-asking-for-it hair. (They clearly haven’t been paying attention to Slut Walk.)

But what’s depressing me even more than yet another politician sex scandal is the study published this week revealing that 48 percent of 7th to 12th graders experienced sexual harassment in the past year. Which means we’ve normalized sexually aggressive and derogatory behavior — especially towards women and girls, though boys were harassed as well — to a frankly, alarming degree.

How has this happened and which cultural forces are to blame? I’m not entirely sure, but I tell you, worrying about this is taking all of the fun out of watching The Vampire Diaries. (Seriously. Is it just me, or is this season extra rape-y?)

Anyway, back to Herman Cain, and how we can use what’s left of his fifteen minutes to have a productive conversation about why sexual harassment has become so commonplace, Cain genuinely seems to expects us to believe him when he says he doesn’t remember doing anything wrong.

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Filed under Career Opportunities, Government Watch, Happenings

Bring On the Beauty Start-Ups?

Beauty Salon For Rent Main Street USA Virginia Sole-Smith

A few weeks ago, Inc.com listed beauty salons as one of the best start-up businesses for 2011.

According to AnythingResearch.com, the cosmetology and barber schools (that educate salon-entrepreneur-hopefuls) grew at 29 percent last year, and nail salons grew at 9 percent. Inc.com’s reporting shows an industry with a low barrier to entry for salons and barber shops. Pair that with a recent resurgence in barbershop nostalgia—and with a return to beauty-service spending by consumers—and it’s a perfect storm for rapid growth in the salon and beauty industry. Bring on the beauty start-ups.

Well. Let’s take a look at that, shall we?

I suppose, by some measures, the $10,000 and 4 to 12 months it costs to get through beauty school add up to a “low barrier to entry.” For sure, it’s not medical school. But neither is the average post-graduation income ($9 to $15 per hour) anywhere close to what doctors make.

The statistics that Inc.com forgot to factor in to their analysis are ones that I learned my second month in at Beauty U from Simon Scott: Beauty salons have the second highest failure rate of any business. And 80 percent of students who graduate beauty school leave the industry after five years.

So let’s look again at the numbers that have Inc.com in a lather about beauty start-up potential. Beauty schools grew at a rate of almost 30 percent last year. Nail salons — as in, the places of business where beauty school graduates can actually earn a living — grew at less than 10 percent.

Trade schools always thrive during a recession (or a post-recession, if that’s what we’re in now) because if you’re out of a job, quickly retraining to qualify to do something else makes some kind of sense. Unless that “something else” is a job paying not much better than minimum wage for a business that’s likely to fail.

On my post-Beauty U road trip last summer, I saw beauty salons and barber shops on practically every corner of the Midwest. I did not see a lot of customers in them. I did see a lot of “For Rent” and “For Sale” signs.

Meanwhile, my Beauty U friends are having varying degrees of success in the business. A few of my classmates have landed part-time spa jobs. Most are still working the non-beauty-industry jobs they had when they arrived at Beauty U. One of my former teachers is now working at Sephora, while another is doing office temp work. That’s not exactly the rocket ship success that beauty school admission officers like to promise, or the “recession-proof career” that the beauty industry trade groups brag about.

It might not cost much to start up a beauty business. But to keep it going? That’s another question entirely.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, Career Opportunities

Three Things You Need to Know to Be a Good Salon Client

Beauty Schooled The Beheld Virginia Sole-Smith Be a Good Salon Client

And you thought yesterday was awesome, what with me talking all about beauty and feminism and the sisterhood of the Brazilian. (Are we making that a thing yet? C’mon!) Today I’m over on The Beheld again, talking about the three things you need to know to be a good salon client.

Hint: One of them is so important, it gets it’s own page on Beauty Schooled, up where it says Tipping Point in the header.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, Cross Posts, Spa Stories, Tanning

Beauty Schooled on The Beheld!

Virginia Sole-Smith Q&A on The Beheld

My new blog friend Autumn Whitefield-Madrano writes an awesome and thoughtful blog called The Beheld, which you should already know about because I link to it allll the time in the Price Check and on Twitter.

So there was much hopping about with excitement when Autumn asked to interview me for The Beheld about the Beauty U project and other beauty-related matters. Check it out here.

Also we coined the phrase “Sisterhood of the Brazilian,” which is going to be huge. I’m pretty sure.

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Filed under Back to Beauty U, Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Career Opportunities, Tip Jar

[Back to Beauty U] The Written Licensing Exam

The written part of our licensing exam is held at one of those vocational high schools where they teach Driver’s Ed and certify real estate agents on the weekend. There is a lot of dingy gray carpet and all the fluorescent lights seem to have one bulb out.

Meg and I plan to meet outside, fifteen minutes early, so we can sit together. We’re both nervous and we both show up at least twenty minutes early. We are not the first to arrive.

When we reach the check-in table the first thing the old lady exam proctor says to me is, “Your purse is filthy.”

I’ve put it down on her table to search for my checkbook and am completely disconcerted. Is purse hygiene part of the test? Am I failing already? Continue reading

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Filed under Back to Beauty U, Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, Career Opportunities, In Class

[Back to Beauty U] Mary Kay Calling

Back to Beauty U: An occasional series where I roll out some never-blogged-before Beauty U moments

Mary Kay and Missiles

The first thing I learned from Delores is that Mary Kay ladies don’t drive pink Cadillacs anymore.

Well they can — a shiny pink convertible is still one of the choices if you’ve earned Career Car privileges — but Delores drove up to Beauty U in a silvery-pink Chevy Equinox SUV. She wore a royal blue skirt suit with black fishnets and black knee-high boots plus lots of gold accessories and I later learned that the suit itself was a “Mary Kay Sales Director” suit that she had to qualify (in sales numbers) to wear, but that the accessories were all hers.

Delores carried in a pink tote bag brimming with catalogs, while behind her, Sue wheeled in a the biggest pink polka-dotted suitcase I’d ever seen. Upon closer inspection, the dots revealed themselves to be tiny hair dryers and makeup brushes. There weren’t any clients on the books, so everyone piled into the spa classroom while Sue passed out little plastic-covered cardboard folders. Inside, they held a mirror and a plastic tray, divided into different inch-sized compartments. Mine held the remnants of many prior product applications. The mirror in Blanche’s folder was cracked.

The next thing I learned from Delores was that if I wanted to, I could make “a corporate income” selling Mary Kay products right out of my home. “Even in the recession, our saleswomen are doing better than ever!” She jumped right into her speech about that while Sue came around and squirted little bits of product onto each of our trays.

“I always wanted to stay home with my children and Mary Kay has let me realize my dream,” Delores said, showing us her gold charm necklace that featured silhouette heads for each of her three kids. “My husband has even been able to retire early because my business is so successful!”

I knew that Sue was between jobs and trying to pick up a bartender gig. They mostly relied on her boyfriend’s income, doing something for the town that meant whenever we had a snowstorm he had to pull double shifts and plow the streets.

“That’s why I’m so thrilled that Susan has come back to Mary Kay again,” said Delores. I had never heard Sue go by “Susan,” but it sounded right coming from Delores, all successful and corporate. “She can help support her family and still have time to be with her son and pursue her education! Now ladies, let me tell you about our amazing new skin care line.”

And as we were instructed to dab each of the product samples from our little trays onto our faces — the custom Mary Kay “facial” — I couldn’t figure out if I was being sold a career or a face wash.

Delores really liked the Mary Kay Timewise 3-in-1 Cleanser, which promises to cleanse, exfoliate and tone you all in one step, but Miss Jenny was underwhelmed. “We don’t like combination products here,” she explained to Delores, rubbing a bit of cleanser doubtfully onto the back of her hand. “If you’re going to do all those things properly, you really need three separate products.”

“Of course, that’s why we also offer our Classic Basic Skincare line, where you use a separate product for each step,” Delores responded smoothly, marching us right along to the lip treatment samples. “Remember, ladies, you earn 50 percent commission on every product you sell. That’s why I’m so pleased that Susan has come back to us — the sky really is the limit!”

In fact, this was Sue’s third time selling Mary Kay, which meant it was the third time she had bought the $120 start-up kit, where you get samples of all the key products and a guide to selling them to all of your family and friends. “The first two times, I didn’t make any money,” she told me later. “But this time, with our esthetics knowledge, being in this business, I think it makes a lot of sense.”

After our “skin care class,” Delores handed out catalogs so we could page through all the different shades of Mary Kay eye shadows and lipsticks. “Remember, ladies, if you buy tonight, Susan will earn 50 percent off everything!” she told us. “You really are helping out a friend. That’s how Mary Kay works. You can help her even more if you agree to host a party, plus that way you can get free products!”

Of course, we all wanted to help out Sue. Miss Jenny bought some eye shadow. Miss Stacy agreed to host a party. I bought the lip treatment and later I would buy a toner and a clarifying mask, when Sue swore they would be just what I needed to clear up my Beauty U breakouts. (They weren’t.)

By then, she had hosted a few parties where she earned $500 in a night — way better than bartending. Except out of that $500, she also had to pay for party snacks and wine, pay Mary Kay to maintain the web page of her “exclusive online store,” and pay for inventory so she could make more sales at her next party.

That first night, Blanche had been the most suspicious of the whole thing when Delores began her sales pitch. “Can I get another mirror?” she asked Sue, handing back her cracked one. “Do you really make any money this way?”

But the magical phrase “corporate income” — plus Delores’s shiny car and spiffy suit — seemed to go a long way. By the end of the night, she had signed on to Delores’ team, forking over the $120 for her own starter sales rep kit. And she and Sue helped Delores cart out the roll-along suitcase and the pink tote bag, chattering about that 50 percent commission and the great new range of eye shadow colors.

So. I’m pretty fascinated by the whole world of direct-marketing cosmetics, which so many women at Beauty U seemed to at least dip a toe in — without ever making much money.

Have you tried selling Mary Kay, Avon, or another direct-marketing makeup brand? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments, or email me (beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot]com) with your story.

[Photo: “Missiles and Makeup,” by Brent Moore of SeeMidTN.com, via Flickr.]

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Filed under Back to Beauty U, Beauty U, Career Opportunities, In Class, Makeup