Is It Time To Move On?

by Dr. Westina Matthews

“I don’t envy what you are doing, but I envy that you are doing it.”

How often have I thought this while working at the same company for 24 years, as I watched others stretch themselves toward new horizons, daring to risk leaving their company.

I didn’t envy what they were doing. I envied that they were daring to dive into their desire and purpose.

Recently, during a cab ride from LaGuardia Airport to my hotel, I watched the tall buildings flash by as I thought back to when I first moved to New York City years ago. I was so much more adventurous then. I had just spent the prior five years saying yes to many wonderful opportunities: finishing two postdoctoral fellowships; joining a community foundation as a program officer; and then relocating to a city in which I knew no one.
And, without a business background, I was about to work for a financial firm.

When I moderate panels for diverse women, I have a favorite question to ask: What would you tell your younger self? Invariably, the answer is the same: I should have moved sooner to another company.

Have you stayed at your company for too long?

Research has consistently found that women of color who change companies—and sometimes industries—are more likely to be promoted with increased compensation when compared to their cohort who stayed behind. Yet women are sometimes less likely than their male counterparts to be risk-takers, and often for good reasons. Young mothers have told me that they intentionally made the decision to stay at a particular job until their children were older. Some women who have become caregivers for relatives need to have flexible schedules, as do women who are recovering from a life-threatening illness. All are sound reasons to stay. Work-life balance is essential for your well-being and should always take precedence when feasible.

However, if personal or family obligations and responsibilities are not a consideration, you may want to think about changing jobs. It may be time to move if you are being overlooked for promotions; do not feel as though you are excited about your job or are being challenged; or if you are not receiving stretch assignments or being invited to important meetings. On the other hand, it is not time to move if you are continuing to learn; being given new assignments; receiving equitable compensation; and being promoted.

In the end, I stayed for all the right reasons for me, including recovering from a life-threatening illness; beginning a new marriage; and taking the opportunity to build a new revenue- generating business within my company.

For those of you who think it is time to leave, some of the best advice I received early on in my career was to identify three to five people who I trusted and who had a wide sphere of influence. Confidentially let them know of your interest in considering a new possibility. These individuals very likely are contacted frequently by search firms and executives looking for new talent, and consequently they will know about opportunities before they are public. And always, always take a call from a headhunter and listen. I have used possible new opportunities to negotiate promotions and pay increases within my own company. It’s called leverage. DW

Dr. Westina Matthews is a retired managing director with Merrill Lynch, a position that reflected her progressive responsibilities over her career, including philanthropy, global diversity, community development, and business development.

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