October 29, 2017 6:00 pm

For some ambitious women, staying single is how they focus on their careers

WATCH: One CEO suggests if career-focused women can't find supportive partners, they are better off being single.


Many women just stay single when they can’t find partners who are supportive of their careers, according to one expert who wrote as much in the Harvard Business Review.

Professionally ambitious women often come to this conclusion, says Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of gender consulting firm 20-first and author of Seven Steps to Leading a Gender-Balanced Business.

“Anything in between ends up being a morale and career-sapping morass,” she wrote.

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“This is the reality of the half-baked transition we are in when it comes to women in the workplace. The 20th century saw the rise of women. The 21st century will see the adaptation (or not) of men to the consequences of that rise. The reality is that the transition is not smooth and the backlashes will be regular, but the benefits are potentially huge.”

READ MORE: International Women’s Day highlights gender pay gap in the workforce

The response to the piece has been generally positive and many are grateful for the supportive partners in their lives, Wittenberg-Cox tells Global News.

And while some may become defensive (Wittenberg-Cox focuses on heterosexual relationships between men and women in the piece), the trend of seeing more supportive partners is what we need to strive for, she says.

“It’s a very positive trend,” Wittenberg-Cox says. “[It is] the partial digestion of dissolving gender roles… there’s nothing better in the world than a mutually-enhancing egalitarian couple. The fact that more of them exist is creating more of an aspiration. I think more and more people will aspire to it as well.”

Choosing to be single

Meanwhile, for some women, finding the time and energy to have both a fulfilling career and meaningful relationship is almost impossible, so they choose to stay single for the sake of their professional lives instead.

Work has always been a focus for 29-year-old author and speaker Pauleanna Reid of Toronto. She has been single for the last four years.

Pauleanna Reid
Credit: Desiree Thomas

“I kind of dominate my lane,” she tells Global News. “Most people assume that singleness is a sentence or that I am angry at men or bitter. But I try to explain to my peers that the path to finding love looks very different for all women. I am happy and I am choosing me.”

Reid was engaged in her early 20s; she has dealt with her share of heartbreak.

The speaker and mentor tells Global News that if she does find someone to marry, it will be about more than just love.

“It has to make financial business sense,” she says. “Men are attracted to the idea of me, but they can’t handle the reality.”

single women career Credit: Desiree Thomas

But motherhood is one life event that Reid doesn’t want to miss out on.

“If I am single at 33 or 34, I am definitely going to do IVF. I am not going to miss that window,” she says.

She also believes love is out there for everyone. But when a woman decides to stay single, Reid says she shouldn’t be judged for taking her time.

Toronto-based freelance content producer Amanda Scriver, 34, stayed single in her mid-to-late 20s after she couldn’t find partner who were willing to support her career ambitions.

“I thought it was better to focus on me and getting myself to the place I wanted to be,” she tells Global News.

And although she never felt people were pressuring to find someone, she would often put pressure on herself.

“‘Why am I single?’ [or] ‘Why can’t I change or commit? Am I damaged?’ [This] likely didn’t help the situation at all, but it created a false and harmful narrative inside my head that I wasn’t worthy of love or would be able to find love,” Scriver says.

She found the right partner eventually — someone who was completely supportive of her career, with its odd hours and deadlines.

“He gave me the courage to quit my job in 2015 and exploring a career in freelancing writing full-time. He’s made me more confident in my abilities and given me the strength to chase after my biggest dreams,” she says.

READ MORE: Why staying single after a breakup can be the best thing for you

Singleness as a stigma

People who are single are stigmatized, and they often feel pressure to find someone as they age, says Natasha Sharma, a therapist and relationship expert

“The stigma for single women is so much greater than it is for a single man,” she says.

Single women in particular are seen as bitter, picky or sometimes even gold diggers, and choosing to stay single is not seen as acceptable as wanting to be in a relationship.

And for the most part, these women aren’t avoiding relationships either — some are dating and are open to the idea of love, just with the right person.

Kennishia Duffus, a 29-year-old wedding and event planner and entrepreneur, says she chose to stay single for her career after she left a toxic relationship.

“I realized I had never given myself the time to really get to know me,” she says. “I felt that I was lost in their perception of me and I needed to recover in order to find myself and my purpose. I needed the time for self-development.”

Kennishia Duffus Kennishia Duffus at work.

Ultimately, this led her to find her voice and discover her passions. And while she chooses to not date either, she often feels pressure to find someone.

“I remind myself that I am enough, I’m authentic and that when the time is right, Mr. Right will come and encourage me to continue being my best me,” she says.

How to find supportive partners

A supportive partner can look different for everyone, but there are signs that they’ll be there for you as you pursue your goals, Sharma says.

“They’re happy for you when you are happy, they celebrate your success and they support your goals,” she says. “If you have a partner who is supportive who brings out the best in you and you feel happy, you’re in a good relationship. But you don’t need to be in a relationship to feel happy and fulfilled.”

Charlotte Ottaway, owner of content marketing company Web of Words, says that although she was always career-oriented, she ended up marrying at 25 after she found a supportive partner.

“I never felt like I had to choose between my relationship and my career. Ever since I met him, my husband has always been my greatest fan in life. He is constantly encouraging me to chase my dreams, and challenging me to face my weaknesses,” she says.

READ MORE: Why the gender pay gap still exists and what women can do to close it by 2066

In her first month of self-employment, Ottaway says she wasn’t able to earn $1,000 and it took nine months to turn her business into a full-time job.

“We didn’t know at the time that one year into launching my business, he’d end up quitting his job to join me in the world of self-employment. For a while, our roles switched, and I became the main breadwinner,” she continues.

“While I do put his priorities in front of my own sometimes, he does the same for me. And it feels good to come first for someone else.”

Wittenberg-Cox says there are supportive partners out there.

But how you define supportive really comes down to the individual, she adds.

And people also need to do away with the idea of a work-life balance, Wittenberg-Cox says.

“We need to be flexible,” she says, adding that over the years, companies have become more flexible for women in the workplace, but this hasn’t been the same for men to embrace the roles of fatherhood, for example.

And whatever it is you want — a steady income, a supportive partner, a fulfilling job or all three — people have to start looking ahead.

“Women have different career cycles than men do and it’s interesting to think about living to 100 and doing different things,” she says.

“It’s wise to plan. Being very intentional in what you want and going for it does deliver.”


© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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