When thinking about starting a family in line with managing a career, it’s easy to believe the optimal thing to do is to get on the path to leadership before giving the family a go.
And this has worked for plenty of women who’ve either been in leadership positions or on track for such positions before taking time out to have children.
But would it be easier to achieve certain career ambitions by having kids younger?
Former Apple managing director Diana Ryall thinks so. She recently told me she would like to see more women having kids in their mid to late twenties, at a time when they’re still in the earlier stages of their careers.
“It’s easier to have time off if you’re further down the organisation. There are more places you can come back in, more opportunities for you,” she said. “Senior leaders are more difficult to replace, you effectively need to find a job share.”
And while at a more junior career stage you may then not be on a large enough salary to think you can justify childcare expenses, Ryall advises young women and men to see childcare as an investment rather than a cost.
“It’s an investment in where you’re going to be in five years’ time. If your career matters to you, then make that investment now,” she said. “There are a lot of kids who had fewer toys and more used clothes a decade ago!”
Ryall spent almost twenty years with Apple Australia, working her way up from a part-time programming position to the MD role. But she didn’t start with the technology company until 1984, when her youngest child was three years old. “Before I took time out [of the workforce] I was working in education, and when I came back it was the first time I’d been in a commercial environment,” she said.
She added she was lucky to have a mother-in-law who stayed with the family to help with the caring responsibilities as well as a husband who moved out of the corporate world to a position with the CSIRO, offering Ryall the flexibility she needed to get stuck into her new career with Apple.
Pursing her career this way saw Ryall spend plenty of time with her children while they were little, and plenty of time again later to pursue interesting and challenging roles with Apple that set her up to lead the organisation.
While this might be ideal, it won’t work for everyone – especially these days as fewer woman are settled down and in a relationship that’s ready to have children by the time they reach the age of thirty.
But what do you think, is there an ‘optimal’ time to have children when it comes to career planning?