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“A full-time career? Why should I be doing this to myself?” Why close to a million women choose not to participate in the workforce – a guest post by Ingrid Messner

Do these ‘ladies of leisure’ pose a threat to Australia’s productivity? This is what a recent headline in The Australian newspaper indicated. The blame seems to be on us women – if only we were to choose to work, the danger of the ticking population time-bomb will be so much smaller. I’m not sure that this is a fair representation of the current situation. Why did so many women choose to leave the workforce in the fist place?

The author of the article, Christian Kerr, referred back to the findings of a Productivity Commission working paper on the labour force participation of women aged over 45. Although the paper delivers a very detailed image of the current work force status of these women, it fails to examine the real reasons behind the issue in more detail.


There are a few key factors influencing the decision of a woman to work in businesses or not. All of these factors start to affect women already in their 20s negatively (working hours, place of work, pay, culture, and others). These factors can become more and more challenging and annoying over the period of a woman’s career until, eventually, they wear her down and she leaves her job (obviously at a point when she has gained some sort of financial security).


However, I believe that the main reason why many women leave the workforce is because they can’t find any meaning in their work. They lack the enduring motivation to master all the challenges. And why should they still be motivated? After mastering all the outer challenges, their inner drive and motivation is no longer there.
Some male leadership-styles focusing only on the “better, stronger, faster” approach seem not to provide any framework for finding more meaning at work. Many female employees just don’t know why they should actually go to work – day in and day out. What for? What is the vision? What can she contribute? What does the business really value about her? A new transformational leadership style that truly engages all employees is needed.


Many mature women resort to more voluntary and social work where they can choose a cause that they are passionate about and for which they want to make a difference. Suddenly, they fell energized again. Obviously, their (male) bosses weren’t able to share with them a vision and space at work where these women could have contributed in a similar way within the business. It is a missed opportunity for everyone.
Thus, by fully understanding how their female employees prefer to work, business leaders can have a huge influence on securing Australia’s productivity … and future!


About the author: Ingrid Messner is an Executive Coach and Change facilitator who works with business leaders to create clear, engaging and sustainable visions and action plans. For more information


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