Ever since I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, I have been pondering the choices I made professionally and wondering if I should have “leaned in” along the way. I love working and I have spent most of my life preparing for and participating in the workforce, but I also love being primarily responsible for raising my kids. What I don’t love is feeling like I have to apologize for that choice. In a perfect scenario, I could work around my family’s needs and contribute productively to society. This idea led me to a thought exercise that with some energy and attention, might be a first step toward more seamless transitions for men and women in and out of the workforce along a life, not just a career, path…
RAMP… On or off, we’re still moving forward.
If work life is a journey to be traveled, rather than a destination to be reached, there are bound to be stops along the way. Think of your career as one long, fun road trip. You travel along, at first in a stroller, upgrading to a bike, your first car, a nicer model, a sensible minivan, the midlife crisis sports car and eventually a practical Subaru (avoid the wheelchair, if possible!) and then a nice porch rocker if you’re lucky. But on any road trip, there are pit stops, exits and entrance ramps. These are a natural part of any trip. When you get off the freeway for a little break, you don’t abandon your car and never look back. Instead, you park it for a while, rest, refuel and get back on your way. Why can’t your career be like this too?
What is RAMP?
- RAMP is a network of individuals who view their career path as a journey rather than a destination, but who recognize the need to continue to grow, whether employed or not.
- RAMP is a social movement designed to get society to stop valuing each other by our professions, but by our intrinsic character and essential selves.
- RAMP is a practical resource for skills building, networking, career curation, support and advocacy.
- RAMP is a membership-based organization, app and website that links workers with employers, or needs with skills, for project based work for individuals who are taking a break from a career, but still want to be professionally engaged.
The goal of RAMP is to become a system for aiding the off ramping and on ramping of individuals from professional career paths to family care roles and back. The goal is nothing less than raising both society’s labor productivity and also the overall level of emotional wellness in society. Improving social productivity in this way is an increasingly urgent economic need given aging demographics in most countries and extensive welfare spending.
Need for RAMP
Many highly skilled and educated people, predominantly women, are dropping out of the workforce in order to assume the role of primary care provider parent in their own household. With long work hours and complicated societal demands for engaged parenting, households that can financially afford a division of labor where one is the primary bread winner and the other the primary domestic manager are feeling forced to make this difficult choice. Increasingly this has become an all or nothing scenario, which has created an economic inefficiency that should be addressed. Educating a sector of the population that then fails to contribute directly to the economy is time consuming, expensive and inefficient.
Beyond the economic inefficiency of educating an ultimately “non-productive” sector, choosing to leave a professional life has psychological implications that negatively impact self-esteem, divorce rates, substance abuse and so on. The Five O-Clock glass of wine that is joked about in just about every “mommy blog” or New Yorker cartoon is actually damaging and, I theorize, a sign of deep despondency and lack of satisfaction and happiness in life.
One of the biggest things a primary care parent misses is recognition, professional growth and feedback. Volunteering for worthy causes can help alleviate that, but for individuals to truly engage in nonprofit volunteer work they need and deserve a more formalized system of recognition and feedback that contributes to the continuity of their resumes. This will improve the quality of the commitment volunteers make to the causes as well.
- A Harvard Business Review survey found that 37% of highly qualified women were “off-ramping” (voluntarily leaving their job for extended time periods) and that “three quarters [of the women surveyed] were on nonlinear career trajectories to the detriment of their earning potential and career advancement.” (HBR Magazine, June 2010).
- With due respect to his holiness the Dali Lama who believes that happiness is the ultimate goal, we RAMPers believe that happiness is the byproduct of finding and living one’s purpose. Viktor Frankl’s “knowing the why enables you to bear almost any how.”
- The root of the mommy wars is not judgment of the other, but vulnerability and guilt.
- Answering the dreaded question, “What do you DO?”
RAMP can address these issues by helping primary care parents maintain their professional skill set, sense of self worth and purpose by keeping them responsible to continually contribute to the world beyond their own families. Rather than just drop out altogether, RAMP helps individuals create a work plan that will enable them to continue to build new skills and keep old skills fresh, and to take on projects that utilize their professional talents but still maintain schedule flexibility which is the single biggest need for primary care provider parents.
Possible components of RAMP:
1. On-line database for skills-based project work – For people with specific skills who don’t want to work full-time, but could take on projects. The employer doesn’t have to pay benefits and can get specialzed skills and expertise that they don’t have to have in-house without making a long-term employment contract decision. Similar in concept to legal services firm, Axiom, individuals could even eventually work for RAMP and be hired out for projects, getting insurance and other benefits from RAMP.
2. Political Advocacy – Want to make a real difference? Join the RAMP Advocacy Team in being an advocate for primary care parent protection by lobbying to make changes at the government level. Could social security benefits be shared for couples who choose to have one parent stay home to take care of children? Paternity leave benefits? On-site child care? Do research and let your voice be heard to help other families navigate these important decisions better in the U.S.
3. Networking & Community Organization – There is power in numbers. One of the biggest concerns of stay-at-home parents is the isolation and lack of professional network they had when they “really worked.” RAMP offers both an on-line and in-person gathering for members. Those in the same city can meet in a common location to work together, bouncing ideas off each other and perhaps sparking innovation. Another example would be an increased efficiency and transparency to alleviate the mommy wars. Instead of “stay-at-home-moms” feeling put upon by working mothers who continually ask for favors without reciprocating, organize a system where stay at home moms help working moms on an up-front basis and get some kind of compensation/recognition for it rather than favors with judgment. Mothers could join the after-school brigade coordinating carpool rides to after-school activities, hosting homework groups at their houses and so forth. Working mothers would know that their kids were in the hands of other mothers. Working mothers would spend RAMP stamps by the hour, while stay-at-home parents who agree to volunteer earn the stamps. RAMP Stamps can be spent to sponsor other members, or for guidance, personal training etc.
4. Alternate Currency – An alternate structure for RAMP might include a website/app that would match skills with needs and earn members a form of currency called RAMP Stamps. The website would keep track of bankable hours that could be spent for other services by RAMP members. For example: One RAMP member is an accountant. She is “hired” by another member to create a family budget, which takes her five hours. She banks five RAMP Stamps. The accountant then decides she wants a balcony garden and finds a landscape architect through RAMP to plant a garden for her, which takes four hours. She spends four of her RAMP stamps on the garden. The landscape architect wants to relax with a regular yoga lesson, so she finds a yoga teacher on RAMP and spends her earned RAMP stamps, one hour at a time, on yoga and so on. The transaction requires feedback from both parties, but no cash outlay. This gives the “employee” a professional track record that helps keep the resume current and growing even though she isn’t formally employed at the time. It also gives the “employer” services without spending money, an issue for non-income-earning spouses. Modeled on Paperless Post’s stamps, RAMP Stamps can also be used to sponsor other RAMP members who can’t afford the membership fees or be spent on needed services. This will build the RAMP network along socio economic lines and encourage the spirit of RAMP in helping people help others.
Clearly this is a half baked thought exercise, not a business plan, but I wonder if it resonates with you and if you have any additional thoughts?