In the last 50 years, women have made rapid and remarkable progress in the workplace. Since 1979, American women have gone from making 62% of what men make to 82%. Right before the pandemic, young women in New York and Washington, D.C. began outearning young men.
Yet gender inequity at work endures. Women have barely cracked the top echelons of corporate power. The gender pay gap persists, due overwhelmingly to the motherhood penalty, wherein the birthing parent’s earning potential falls off a cliff after they have children. (Fathers and non-birthing parents experience no such cliff.) Female employees are still asked to do more “non-promotable” work — organizing office gatherings, taking meeting notes, making slides — than their male counterparts, and women are still penalized at work for being ambitious or simply high achieving.
And that’s all related to the work they do while at work. Women still do most of the unpaid domestic labor and childcare at home, and carry the bulk of the mental load — the relentless planning and scheduling that running a family entails. On top of all of that, women just weathered a global pandemic where their careers suffered the most, as they became America’s default homeschoolers overnight, with no societal support.
Turns out, women are over giving so much of themselves at work for so little in return. In our 2023 State of Women Report, a study conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of theSkimm, 66% of millennial women surveyed said they are worried about how the current economy will impact their careers.59% are concerned about “Experiencing career setbacks due to inequity of women in the workplace, the wage gap, etc.” 60% agreed, “People are generally not accepting of women advancing into positions of power.” 49% are worried about losing their jobs, especially BIPOC women. But they also say their stress levels are untenable; 3 in 4 told us they are “worried about the mental state of their female friends after we have all been through so much.”
In the absence of policies that would make work less grueling – access to high quality, affordable, fair-wage childcare, for example — women told us they are rethinking their relationship with work. Increasingly, they are shaping their careers around their lives, rather than vice versa. 64% told us, “I am tired of trying to be a super mom, super wife, and/ or super employee.” Instead, for their wellbeing, 47% plan to look for a new job, and 36% plan to set firm boundaries around work. Turns out quiet quitting is a wellness practice.
To get a better sense of how these decisions are playing out, we asked Skimm readers to tell us one thing they’ve done in the last three years to redesign their lives. Many responded that they transformed their lives by transforming the way they work.
Some women are scaling back their careers, at least for now.
Anonymous, 35, academic researcher
St. Louis, Missouri
I am an academic researcher and therefore have a national job market — most people in my field move multiple times across the country in their career. I decided this year I would get a job where I actually want to live, close to family and friends. It's not as prestigious as what I am coming from, but it's what I need to do for me and my family to be happy and live our best life. I've heard from many people in my field who feel similar. I'm wondering when the jobs will catch on!
Anonymous, 38, events director; formerly a COO
I am a cancer caregiver, parent, and employee. During the pandemic, I also became a school-at-home parent. I was a director in a demanding role during a tumultuous time [for the] company. I quit for a more flexible and more junior job. I make less money, but decided to put my physical and mental health, as well as my familial responsibilities above my work roles.
Grace, 36, real estate development
[With] Covid … I went from being a 9-5er to working from home, and once the world started returning to normal, I realized that I had spent the past couple years feeling my best in every way — perfect work/life balance, more productive professionally and personally.
In December I [accepted] a very significant job with a fancy title and huge salary increase … but … I had little time for myself or anyone in my life, or the business that I had built and am incredibly proud of… I just wanted the rhythm and peacefulness of my life to be restored — so I resigned and took my old job and salary back, and now fully understand what I need in my life to be fulfilled and happy.
Shay, 33, CSM
I switched from a high-powered job where I sacrificed my physical and mental health to a remote role where I prioritize my yoga practice, healthy meals, and getting fresh air, and set clear working boundaries. It was a salary and title cut, but it was a life boost. I am a better version of myself, and for my baby boy to see his mom happy? What could be healthier?
Women are setting boundaries at work.
Veronica, 39, instructional coach
San Antonio, Texas
I used [to] take work home and work during the evening or weekends, but I no longer do that. Work must stay at work. Setting that boundary has been liberating for my mental health.
Anonymous, 33, vascular surgeon
I'm a surgery resident, so I work a lot of hours. But I have a husband and a dog and I want kids one day too. In the last year or two, I've been more intentional about setting boundaries with my bosses at work. As women surgeons, we often feel like we have to prove ourselves, and we wind up working ourselves into the ground. (To be fair, ours is a really competitive field run by people with driven personalities; a lot of my male colleagues struggle with these issues too). I have a lot of big ideas and big goals. But … I've learned how to say no to certain projects, how to feel satisfied with quality over quantity in my professional life. My family and my life outside of work matter.
Anonymous, 26, teacher
As a teacher, I'm doing my job exactly as it's laid out in my contract. There's so much that teachers are expected to do outside of the time that we're actually paid for. I'm tired of working for free.
Rebecca, 27, assistant animation editor
During my first week of work on my current job, I clearly stated my work boundaries such as my hard-clock off time, my desire to stay remote, and how I will handle last minute requests, etc. I wanted to make sure from the get-go that I wasn't going to be someone who can be pushed around.
Jill, 41, nonprofit COO
Hickory, North Carolina
I was getting calls at all hours, and an expectation started to form that I would be available at any time. [Now] I have two cell phones, one personal and one [for] work. On my day off, the work phone is set to do not disturb. When I go on vacation, the work phone is left at home.
My mental health improves when I can truly be off the clock. My physical health has also improved in that I'm able to sleep better without the fear that I'll be woken up or an after hours call would wake up my spouse.
Women are quitting jobs that don't work for them.
Anonymous, 40, science teacher
Formerly Florence, Oregon; now Uvita, Costa Rica
Quit [my] teaching job after workplace harassment. Traveled for 1.5 years and moved to teach in Costa Rica.
Josalyn, 29, scientist
I'm a certified Medical Laboratory Scientist and spent the first 5 years of my career working in hospital labs performing diagnostic testing. We were always understaffed, so I would be talked into working multiple 16 hour shifts a week and then penalized if I was even a few minutes late to my early morning shift. (I live in a city and have to take public transportation to work, which is very unreliable). I loved the challenge my job provided and knowing that I was helping patients get the medical answers they needed to heal. However, the stress became too much and started manifesting itself physically.
So I took a job in R&D at a biotech company. I often feel like a sellout for leaving my field for better hours, pay, and work life balance. I worked so hard to gain the skills necessary to help people. I felt guilty for not being there during the pandemic to ease the burden on my coworkers. It took me a long time to feel proud of my decision to stop sacrificing my well-being for a system that doesn't care about me at all.
Nicole, 29, freelance editor
High Point, North Carolina
I quit my corporate publishing job and started my own freelance editing business so I didn’t have to be subjected to misogyny from my boss or from clients I worked with. Now I get to choose my clients, projects, and hours, and I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled in my career!
Gail, 26, finance
I quit my exploitative, low-paying job and got a new one that pays me what I'm worth — which was enough for me to finally move out of my parents' house. I can't believe it took me so long.
Crystina Castiglione, 35, artist + designer
I quit my job as a teacher and started my own business so that I could have autonomy over my schedule, and be flexible for my small children. I needed to have control over my day to fit in the logistics of drop offs, pick ups, appointments, sick days, and my own personal things like travel, working out, time with my friends and husband. Now I only answer to myself, and I have no problem being transparent with my clients (who are also mostly women and get it!). I was able to increase my earning potential while working LESS without the stress or fear of losing my job or getting in trouble for missing a day. This has allowed me to invest more money in stocks/retirement than I ever would’ve been able to do as a teacher.
Laura Laudick, 30, independent consultant
Crystal Lake, Illinois
I quit my job at a Big Four consulting firm and [became] an independent consultant. Now my time and money is mine and mine alone, and I can shape my time and life on my terms. I went from working 50+ hours per week to working 15-20 hours a week and making about the same money. I can be home with my 3 year-old two days a week, too — which is fantastic!
Maura, 27, university administrator
I quit my job without having another job lined up. It was the craziest decision I ever made, but I never felt anxiety surrounding it, despite hearing doubts from everyone else in my life. I knew I needed to leave. I was lucky enough to be living with my parents at the time, and I had enough money saved up to live without an income. It took me 7 months to find a new job, but I am now working in my dream career, making $20k more than at my previous job, and living in a beautiful studio apartment all by myself in a brand new city.
Erin, 31, healthcare administration
I've worked for most of the last 10 years at a non-profit health center serving low-income communities, and while I'm choosing to make financial sacrifices to do work that I'm passionate about, I learned a few years ago that I was significantly underpaid compared to male peers. I also in early COVID got "quiet promoted" — I inherited a lot of new responsibilities. Most of my peers were directors or C-Suite in the organization. I tried asking that my pay and title reflect the ways my role had changed. When that failed I accepted a different job.
Ten months after I left, the CEO contacted me about returning. I came back to a Director level title and a salary $30,000 higher than I'd been paid previously. Now that I'm back, I mentor other women so that they don't have the same experience I did, and I advocate for myself with more clarity on what sacrifices I choose, and what sacrifices reflect exploitation.
To access our complete State of Women Report, please click here.
Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter. Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.