Would You Quit Your Job On Principle? These People Did

Photographed by Nina Westervelt.
Forbes contributor Tom Watson resigned last week after a column he wrote on sexism in the media for the site’s Social Ventures blog was removed by his editors. The piece — a fascinating interview with Jamia Wilson of Women, Action, and the Media — has since been published on Medium, along with a note explaining Watson's decision to quit. According to the writer (who is also president and founder of the consulting firm CauseWired), his editors at Forbes thought the column was inappropriate for the section. “I strongly disagree with their decision and we have parted ways,” he wrote. Watson’s story is a reminder that people leave jobs for all kinds of reasons, but not always because of a planned career move. Sometimes, people quit strictly on principle. Kim Higdon worked in the advertising industry for 10 years, but recently quit her job and decided to leave the industry entirely. “My career path and work opportunities there were stagnant, and I didn't agree with the direction the company was heading,” Higdon says. It was enough to make her realize she wanted out. “Each agency I worked for suffers from the same pitfalls, in that client demands trump everything — from practical business decisions to what’s best for agency employees.”
As for millennials, 60% leave jobs within three years, according to a 2013 study by Millennial Branding and Beyond.com. Answers as to why range, but many have to do with the failure to align principles with work: In a recent survey, six out of 10 millennials said a sense of purpose is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employer. Like many younger workers, Higdon, 29, wants a job where she always feels actively engaged in her work, like at her current position as a digital marketing manager for IBC hotels in Phoenix, AZ. She’d consider leaving a future job again if it ever became “prescriptive and predictable,” she says. Most of the time, stories like Higdon's don't generate buzz. But, when Katharine Zaleski wrote about her reason for quitting her high-powered gig at NowThis News — in a column for Fortune in March — she generated a thousand think pieces. “In my mid-20s, I committed a long list of infractions against mothers or said nothing while I saw others do the same,” she wrote. After the birth of her own daughter, Zaleski realized she needed to make a change and start helping mothers instead of being a part of a male-dominated work culture that mistreated them. So, she quit her job at NowThis News to co-found PowerToFly, a platform that matches women in tech to remote work. Motherhood can be an impetus for many women to re-evaluate their careers. In 2012, Anna Steffeney, who worked in finance for a large tech company, was pregnant with her second child. She had her first son while working for the company abroad in Germany, but had recently relocated back to the U.S., where the maternity-leave policy provided much less time off. “I wanted four months of unpaid leave [with my second son] to match what I had while living in Germany,” Steffeney says. She says the company told her that wasn’t an option; she could either take the time as sabbatical leave, or work on a reduced schedule. “For me, it was about the principle of taking the same amount of parental leave for both of my sons.”  Despite the fact that she "truly enjoyed" the job — and the fact that she had worked for the company for seven years — Steffeney decided to quit. Today, she's working to make sure other women don’t have to quit on the same principle; she's launching a startup, LeaveLogic, that helps employees navigate and plan parental leave.
It takes guts to leave a job or an industry because you no longer agree with its mission, but it takes even more courage when that job is in the public eye. In 2014, Lisa Fritsch, a conservative commentator and talk-radio host, was the first Black woman ever to run for Governor of Texas. She was moved to run for office to solve some of the big problems she saw in her state — such as lack of funding for education, the number of uninsured citizens, a growing immigration issue, and “a whopping 18% of working Texans living in poverty” (a higher poverty rate than that of the country as a whole). But, during the campaign, Fritsch started to wonder whether politics was the right way to solve these issues. After she failed to win her party’s nomination, Fritsch not only quit politics — she quit the Republican Party altogether.  “They — or we — may have talked a good game about opportunity, inclusiveness, and equality, but there was no earnest effort in making the changes in leadership, rhetoric, and policy to make it happen,” says Fritsch. “This was so important to me, because as an African-American woman, I am concerned for the desperate situation of urban communities and the lives of our people.”  Now, through her own firm, LISAServes, LLC, Fritsch offers coaching, consulting, and employee-training programs that empower individuals and the communities they live in. She calls this new career her “true calling and path.” All she had to do to find it was quit a job she no longer believed in. 

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series

Button: Register To Vote