I caught up with the very excellent Bev Lockwood today, Bev is a former colleague from Big 4 consulting days and now a fantastic executive coach motivated to help women and men thrive in organisations by being authentic and getting the fit between career and, well, life that they want.
So apart from shamelessly promoting Bev as a great coach (particularly if you are based in Yorkshire and 'above', although she will travel South, with encouragement!) our catch-up made me think about how a bit of independent support to work through the kind of work/life you want at pivotal career moments can be a very good thing.
I'm not coming over all 'Lean-In' here (by that I mean in the Sandberg-esque sense of 'women, fix yourselves, all that's holding you back is your own ambition') a position that I am not wholly comfortable with - more on THAT another time - but I can see how getting a bit of independent support to talk through what life you want to lead, what career you want to have is useful particularly around maternity and paternity leaves and negotiating flexibility.
What makes that 'bit of support' turn into something really useful is if it is informed and intelligent about the realities of how your upcoming temporary absence might be interpreted by bosses and co-workers. It's not all good news there I'm afraid, the maternal body does still send a bolt of anxiety through even the more enlightened manager - will they be coming back? who will do the work? will they want part-time? So support that goes 'if that's what you want, you just have to say it' with all the confidence that strategy requires, falls a bit short in my book.
But as the workplace continues to change and a more diverse range of views and experiences are around the top-table those difficult work/life conversations will get easier, but for now, they aren't always as easy as they might be. From April 2015 it is prospective dads AND mums who will need to have those conversations because fully flexible maternity leave will be here. Watch this space!
So I think a bit of intelligent support to work through how to manage those conversations such that you gain a sense of control over your work and life, and that you remain optimistic rather than anxious about your impending leave or change of work pattern can be a good thing. Whether you get it from a partner, a parent, friends, mentors, or indeed a coach.
I was asked to give a few links to useful websites and specialists to talk to about seeking-out a quality flexible job.
Clearly my friends at Timewise Jobs are the first port of call, but there are others that I don't know so well but have shared here for you to make your own minds up...
Capability Jane specialise in highly skilled jobs, job-sharing and flexible work, and someone recently told me about Between 10 and 2 flexible recruitment agency. I think these all might be a little London and South East focused, so it would be great to evolve this list to include some national/regional resources. Please add resources you know about!
On 3rd June 2014 the Women's Business Council launched its one year anniversary report and set of 100 case studies that showcase what business and others are doing to help women succeed at work. It's published here and on launch night was tweeted about here #wbc1yr.
Of course it is absolutely brilliant that there is continued focus on what needs to change in organisations to make them more humane, equitable and fulfilling places to spend the huge amounts of time in our lives that we do. Not that the explicit driver for the WBC is articulated quite like that; the WBC is looking to promote women's productive contribution to economic growth.
There are some good case studies in there, and by that I mean write-ups of what organisations actually do and the difference it makes to women's position in the labout market. But it is a mixed bag, and occassionally comes across more like marketing than advice for the practitiioner who is trying to change an organisation's culture ...which is what, incidentally, the WBC points out (as many others' before them) needs to change...
But perhaps the WBC is not targeting practitioners. And it isn't a campaign as such, or is it? It is difficult to work out what outcomes WBC are claiming as successes since its launch and for whom, so broad is its focus from work experience for girls to maternity rights and leaves, to flexible working mid-career and retirement transitions.
Sure more insights about how other organisations do things in the form of case studies help. A bit. But if I were a Diversity & Inclusion practitioner, or an Organisational Development person, or 'change-maker' or 'champion', I would be looking for creativity and honesty. I want to know about the things that didn't work and why, because this tells me much much more about about how to tackle some of this stuff. I want to see a bit of dirty laundry. How to deal with the really tough stuff: the bad attitudes and discriminatory behaviours towards women and girls in work for example. Sexism and harrassment might not look like the Benny Hill-style chasing of the secretary round the office desk anymore, but it is there in a different form. In 'private' emails between senior male colleagues for example.
But then this kind of insight is never going to be shared in such a public way. Who does most to support girls into 'good' jobs and women into 'productive' careers is now a site of competition between employers. Great! That is if competitive behaviour drives action on the inside of organisations and is not simply a new marketing opportunity. How will we know? We will know when individuals talk about their personal experiences in work. Then we will know how close the promises are to reality, and how consistent experiences are of flexible working, of career development, of pay and reward and many other employee experiences across whole organisations from shop floor to top table.
What holds talented and qualified women back from progressing to the top jobs in big organisations? The latest academic and industry research says flexible working has a case to answer.
Flexible working is the opportunity to vary the hours, times and locations in which paid work gets done. It can be the hero at times in life when the demands of care or other responsibilities outside of work are acute: for example going part-time to combine care for young children or elderly relatives with paid work, or compressing working hours to release some weekday time for other tasks.
There is an issue of fairness when discussing flexible working. When flexibility is determined entirely by the employer, removing employee choice about hours and location of paid work, then it quickly becomes the villain of the piece. And this is what is at the heart of the controversial debate about zero-hours contracts and their proliferation among lower skilled and lower paid employees at the bottom end of the occupational hierarchy.
Another villainous credential is the association of flexible working practices with career penalties. Part-time work is one of many forms of flexible working, others include flexi-time, glide-time, compressed hours, home-working, mobile-working, or annualised hours, yet it is this long-time association of flexible working with less-than-full-time-hours, and hence an assumed less-than-full-time commitment to the organisation that hinders careers according to the new report by Opportunity Now.
Men and women do flexibility differently. The move to part-time work is a characteristically female transition and one which men are much less likely to make: 75% of part-time workers in the UK are female according to the latest
Labour Force Survey data. Men are much more likely than women to use flexibility informally and in ways that do not impact directly upon their availability and responsiveness to the organisation. So for example, CIPD survey data shows that men are most likely to vary the start or finish times of the working day, or to work remotely either occasionally at home or on the move. This is a reflection of many things, not least how the bread-winning and home-making roles are split within the family, but it is also to do with the unwritten cultural rules about time.
Time is central to professionals and managerial workers demonstration of commitment and success in their chosen fields. Long hours are a proxy for, and taken for granted as evidence of, commitment to organisation and to career. If a
worker reduces their time in the workplace by moving to a part-time schedule then it is generally assumed that they are not as committed to the organisation or to improving their position within it. Organisations simply find it difficult to see past the amount of time that their employees input into their jobs or the miles they put on the clock, when thinking about who is demonstrating the commitment that should be rewarded with promotion. It is unlikely to be the "part-timer" that is picked out of the line-up.
And indeed it might well be the case that temporarily someone may wish to take their foot off the career gas, but it is difficult when that worker seeks to press the accelerator on their career again, for them to do that by continuing to work part-time. They may be a full-timer in a part-time job in terms of their long-term aspiration to lean-in to their careers, to develop their skills, and to progress, but building a career whilst working flexibly remains challenging. A challenge overwhelmingly experienced by women.
Let’s be clear, all staff value flexibility and most staff are working flexibly in some way - 75% of employees according to the same CIPD survey. It’s how it is done and how the attitudes towards the different forms of flexibility undertaken by men and women drive organisational behaviour, that make flexibility a career hero or villain.
Many large organisations advanced in their human resources management practices, long ago made the connection between flexible working and employee well-being, and in turn between employee well-being and satisfaction and improved productivity. So now, organisations that want to get serious about pursuing a dual agenda of improving productivity AND dealing with gender inequalities, overcoming the flexibility stigma that holds women back and denies organisations the benefit of their talents over full and long working lives has to be first priority.
Exploring how to do that will be the focus of future blog entries.