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Can You Get Ahead and Still Have a Life? Younger Women Are Trying to Find Out

Women assessing their careers say they’re determined to advance while keeping work-life boundaries intact

Thu, Nov 3, 2022 8:40amGrey Clock 4 min

Deijha Martin, 26 years old, works as a data analyst from her Bronx, N.Y., apartment. On workdays, she’ll chip away at a task until 5:10 p.m. or 5:20 p.m., but never 6 p.m. She loves travel, and earlier this year tapped her company’s unlimited vacation policy to jet to Greece and France.

Having boundaries is a priority, but make no mistake: She’s plenty ambitious.

“I definitely do want to make money,” she says, so that she can fund the things she loves to do. “It’s just, not really fighting with anyone to get to the top.”

The pandemic’s shake-up of work and life has had lasting effects on ambition for a lot of women. For some, the last years have prompted a reassessment of how much they’re willing to give to their careers at the expense of family time or outside interests. For others, many of them younger professionals, seeing the ways other leaders have allowed work to subsume their lives is a turnoff. And after a spell of workplace flexibility few would have imagined before 2020, many women are now asking the question: Can you get ahead and still have a life?

“The company’s not hinging on your ability to answer an email at 11 o’clock p.m.,” says Alexis Koeppen, a 31-year-old technology worker in New Orleans. “The work will always be there for you.”

She quit an intense consulting job in Washington, D.C., moved to New Orleans to be with her boyfriend and switched to a remote role that gives her time to walk her dog, a pandemic addition, and exercise. Instead of taking on extra work, she’s leaning into trips with friends, weddings, parties. “We didn’t get to for so long,” she says.

Plenty of men are rethinking their relationship with work, too. Women face a particular combination of pressures and penalties at home and on the job. They shoulder far more housework and child care, according to government data, and research shows colleagues perceive them as less committed to their jobs when they become pregnant.

Getting ahead without being always-on might be a hard ask.

“The workplace is still designed for people where work is the number-one priority all the time,” says Ellen Ernst Kossek, a management professor at Purdue University who studies gender and work.

Workers who make themselves constantly available receive better performance evaluations, more promotions and faster earnings growth, adds Youngjoo Cha, a professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. The current economic moment, marked by inflation and the threat of recession, makes the idea of pulling back at work risky yet enticing.

“You think, ‘Are they going to think I’m not a team player?’ Or not come back to me with opportunities, or think I’m ungrateful?” says Kim Kaupe, the Austin, Texas-based co-founder of a marketing agency. She has constructed an email template, which she fires off at least once a month, declining new work opportunities to preserve time for her personal life. Still, she worries.

“I hope they know that I’m still ambitious,” Ms. Kaupe, 37, says of her clients and people reaching out with new opportunities. “But I don’t know.”

Ms. Koeppen says she once aspired to reach the C-suite, but seeing top management up close changed her mind. “I don’t want to be those people,” she says. “They don’t seem happy to me.”

Almost two-thirds of women under 30 surveyed by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org, the nonprofit founded by Sheryl Sandberg, say they would be more eager to advance if they saw senior leaders who had the work-life balance they desire. A good number of senior women leaders themselves aren’t happy either. About 43% of female leaders say they are burned out, the survey data show, as compared with 31% of male leaders.

While some younger women seek a finite workday, baby boomers and Gen Xers wonder whether they could have done things differently and still gotten ahead.

“I don’t know that I did it the right way,” says Jory Des Jardins, a 50-year-old marketing executive, who describes dropping everything for her career and delaying a family until her late 30s.

A co-founder of BlogHer, an online community for women, she spent years travelling frequently for work, transporting her breastmilk home to the San Francisco Bay Area after she had two daughters at age 38 and 40. Her husband paused his career to stay home.

“We wanted to show women it could be done and that we could run a business,” she says of the BlogHer leadership. “We didn’t want to disappoint.”

Ms. Des Jardins eventually sold her company, and tried to dial back professionally. But she had set a precedent as an all-in worker. The opportunities that came her way required flying to New York every week and prioritising an investor meeting over all else.

The pandemic gave her a chance to derive comfort from her family instead of achievements, to unapologetically embrace her whole life, she says. Now she’s wondering, what next?

“If you’re not integrating your life along the way, you kind of have an identity crisis later,” says Ms. Des Jardins, who now works for a startup. “Would it have been that awful if we had taken a little time? Would we have completely taken a step back? I don’t think so. But that was a bet that we weren’t going to take.”

Loria Yeadon, a lawyer who rose to be chief executive of the YMCA of Greater Seattle, still remembers the moment 15 years ago when, rushing to her child’s kindergarten-graduation ceremony, her company’s general counsel rang. Ms. Yeadon said she had 10 minutes to talk. The conversation stretched for an hour.

She didn’t hang up the phone. “I didn’t feel the freedom to do it,” she says.

She made it to her daughter’s ceremony, but spent the beginning still on the call in the back of the room. Looking back, she wishes she had hung up the phone.

“I think today I would just throw it to the wind and trust that there would be another job, or that I’d be fine where I am,” she says. “That I could still have the career I longed for.”


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A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe


Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer


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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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