Posts Tagged “women”

3 Work-Life Assumptions That Are Often Wrong (and Costly)

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Over the last two decades, work and life have transformed so radically that the language we use (e.g. “balance) and the beliefs we hold about the decisions we “should” or “can” make are often out of date.

Here are three examples of work-life assumptions that are frequently wrong…and costly:

Wrong Assumption #1: When a woman has a baby, she will want to work part-time (or not at all), and won’t want to take on more responsibility or travel. Unfortunately, some leaders, managers and colleagues of women in the workplace still make this assumption.

This bias is based on beliefs that continue to influence behavior, even though they no longer broadly apply. For example, Gayle Lemmon recently wrote an article in The Atlantic about research that showed some men in traditional marriages still unconsciously overlook women in the workplace for promotion, etc. because of their assumptions about women and the role they play. In reality, only 29% of children have a stay-at-home parent. The rest either live in a single parent home or both parents work for pay.

  • Why it’s costly: It costs women in that it reinforces the well-documented “motherhood penalty” that affects their career advancement and earnings. It’s costly to employers because the business doesn’t have access to or develop the talent of some of its best employees.
  • Assumption Update: Don’t assume. Discuss preferences which each individual woman. After having a child, some women will want or have to work full-time. They’ll be happy to travel and welcome additional responsibilities. And even if they don’t, women who choose to scale back their career may want to only for a certain period of time. Not forever.

Wrong Assumption #2: Men don’t care about work-life issues. This is an extension of the previous inaccurate assumption. The bias is that work-life is a women’s issue, or more specifically, a mothers’ issue.

From my experience working inside companies, most men care quite a bit about how they manage their lives on and off the job and want to be invited into the conversation. In fact, research shows that men in dual-earner couples are experiencing more work+life conflict than women.

  • Why it’s costly: It costs men because they don’t feel that they have permission to get the support and flexibility they need to manage their work and life better and smarter. Employers lose the productivity and engagement from unnecessarily stressed and overwhelmed men.
  • Assumption Update: We all need to manage our work+life fit everyday if we want to see our friends and family, stay healthy, etc. That includes men and women. And all of us will experience major life transitions that will require a more formal reset of our work+life fit, whether it’s becoming a parent, caring for an aging relative, relocating with a spouse, going back to school or semi-retiring.

Wrong Assumption #3: You can’t have a life and start a successful business. Whether it’s Steve Jobs’ complete devotion to Apple at the expense of time with his family, or Tony Hsieh’s expectation that Zappos employees spend 10-20% of their time outside of work with each other, the assumed gold standard of successful entrepreneurship is 100% work to the exclusion of everything else.

  • Why it’s costly: It scares off many women and men with great business ideas but want to tuck their kids in on occassion and maintain a relationship beyond the people at work. The economy as a whole loses because jobs that are badly needed are not created. It costs potential entrepreneurs, especially women, because they don’t have access to as much capital to grow their businesses.
  • Assumption Update: No one will ever have “balance,” but you can grow a successful business and still have some life outside of work. There are plenty of examples of people doing it and doing it well. This includes the mothers leading successful entrepreneurial ventures who were featured in a recent New York Times article written by Hannah Seligson. Is it hard work? Yes. Can it be done? Yes.

The answer is to assume nothing when it comes to how we want and need to manage our lives on and off the job in a busy, flexible, hectic modern world. Not only are our assumptions often wrong, but they can be costly to both the individual and the business. Instead let’s keep talking to each other. Learn the facts and come up with unique answers that meet our personal needs and the needs of our jobs.

What are the incorrect assumptions that you see people making about work and life? What’s the cost and how can we update those beliefs to match today’s reality?

For more, be sure to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

6 Ways to Promote Work Flexibility Culture Change

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Our client, the professional services firm BDO, recently produced a short video about their award-winning approach to work and life flexibility.  Here are the six lessons every organization can takeaway from the clip to help better position flexible work as part of the culture, or the way the business and people operate every day:

Lesson 1: Language matters. BDO Flex is a “strategy.”  It’s about getting work done, serving clients, and managing people.  It’s not a program or policy.  There are policies to support various aspects of the strategy (e.g. compensation, telework equipment) but “flexibility” itself is not a policy.  There are programs that use BDO Flex, but “flexibility” is not a program.

Lesson 2: The employee AND the business must succeed for flexibility to work. All of the stories and key themes in the video reinforce the point of “dual” benefit and impact:

  • ReThink–The possibilities are endless
  • ReFresh–You work hard. Use Flex to recharge
  • ReDefine–Don’t accept business as usual
  • ReDiscover–Don’t lose sight of your dreams
  • ReAssure–Small changes can make a big impact

Lesson 3: Take the time and invest the resources to create a shared vision of success that anchors the strategy. It took months for the firm to create the “BDO Thrives on Flexibility” vision statement, but that process changed hearts and minds and created a shared understanding which moved the culture.

Lesson 4: Flexibility is not just about formal flexible work arrangements. It’s about both formal and informal, day-to-day flexibility in how, when and where you work and manage your life. It’s not an “arrangement,” but a well thought out plan tailored to meet your unique needs and the needs of the business.

Lesson 5: Men and women want and use work flexibility. Work flexibility is not a women’s issue.  It’s a strategy to help all people fit the unique pieces of their lives together in a competitive, hectic, global economy and for businesses to work smarter and better.

Lesson 6: Flexibility is not about child care only. Yes, parents absolutely need to work flexibly; however, as the video shows so do employees who have spouses who relocate, who have a passion for ballroom dancing or cartoon drawing, and who want to stay healthy.  And it’s for leaders who want to reduce the level of employee burnout and service clients better.

What other lessons did you learn from watching how one organization is talking about and positioning strategic flexibility in their business?  What is your organization doing?

If you haven’t already, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost!

3 Reasons Entrepreneurs Need to Discuss “Work” and “Life,” but Stop Talking About “Balance”

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Last Friday, I had the privilege of participating as a panelist at The White House Urban Economic Forum hosted by Barnard College. The event focused on inspiring, funding and providing technical support to women entrepreneurs.

A recurring theme throughout the conference was how to start and grow a business while taking care of the other parts of your life.  For example:

  • Rebecca Blank, Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, explained that when women are asked why they started their businesses they’re more likely to answer, “So I have flexibility to manage my life and my kids.” In contrast, men respond, “To make a lot of money.”
  • Joanne Wilson, an angel investor and Gotham Gal blogger, said she thought every woman should be an entrepreneur because it gives you the control and flexibility to do work you love and take care of the other parts of your life.

But when one of the moderators, Arianna Huffington, asked the women on her panel, “How do you balance your work and life?” everyone got so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.  If issues related to work and life were so front and center throughout the day, why was “balance” such a tough topic for the group to address?  And why does it matter?

There is no work/life “balance,” which is why no one can answer the question. It’s not that we don’t want to answer the question.  It’s that we can’t, no matter how hard we try (here and here).  This is especially true for entrepreneurs who rarely have any physical or mental division between their lives on and off the job.

The way to start a productive conversation on the subject is to ask someone, “How do you manage the way work and the other parts of your life fit together?”  The conversation shifts away from limiting, unachievable, one-size-fits-all “balance,” to the possibilities of a person’s unique work+life “fit.” You leave room for the truth that there will be times when work is primary, and the other parts of life take a backseat, and vice versa.  And that’s OK.  We can learn from our individual “how to” stories.

It’s imperative that we share our judgment-free strategies for managing work and life if we want women-owned businesses to achieve their full growth potential. Since the research shows that women entrepreneurs are motivated in part by work+life considerations, then it’s critical to share strategies for managing how all of the pieces fit together.  It’s the only way women are going to see the possibilities for themselves and their businesses, and expand beyond the “it can’t be done” meme that’s out there.

Personally, when I heard that my fellow panelist Margery Kraus grew her company, APCO Worldwide, to employ 700 people around the world while staying married to her husband for more than 40 years, raising three children and spending time with 10 grandchildren, I thought, “If she can do it, so can I.”  Technical advice for business growth is important but so are the “how to” strategies for personal success (as you define it for yourself and your family).

We need to challenge the “all work, all the time” model that dominates entrepreneurial lore and funder expectations. In his book “Delivering Happiness—A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose,” Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh, shares his secrets to entrepreneurial success.  One of his rules is that Zappos employees spend a certain percentage of their time outside of work with each other.  A busy entrepreneur who has other personal responsibilities is going to look at that blueprint for growth and think, “I can’t do that.” But is it really necessary?

After more than 15 years creating work+life fit and flexibility strategies for all types of companies, I can honestly say I don’t believe that the “all work, all the time” model is the only path to business success. It’s time to identify and celebrate other examples where an entrepreneur works hard, achieves results but doesn’t completely ignore their own well-being and their important personal relationships.

Changing the narrative around the work+life fit expectations of an entrepreneur is especially critical for women.

Even Jessica Jackley, the highly successful founder of Kiva.org and now CEO of ProFounder, faced blowback when one of her VC investors discovered that she was pregnant with twins. He bravely admitted thinking, “A pregnant founder/CEO is going to fail her company.”  His public honesty allowed Jackley to eloquently point out that her pregnancy shouldn’t interfere with her company’s need for funding and ability to deliver results.  She will figure out how to make it all work.  Success didn’t require an “all or nothing” choice.  But too many entrepreneurs still think it does.

Let’s learn from each other by asking, “How does your work as a busy entrepreneur fit into the other parts of your life?”  There’s no right answer or “balance,” only countless possibilities for growth and success, personally and professionally.  And in the process, we can expand beyond the outdated “all work, all the time” entrepreneurial growth mindset that limits everyone—men and women.

If you’re an entrepreneur, how to you grow your business and manage the other parts of your life?  What’s your work+life “fit?”

Stop Talking About Work+Life Flex Solely in the Context of Women…Really, Seriously, Once and for All

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I waited.  I knew it was coming.  As expected, shortly after the release of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything the calls and emails began rolling in, “What do you think?”  Earlier this year, I’d dodged that question when Womenomics was released.  At the time, I thought I didn’t need to add my voice to the mix because of course by now most people understood that work+life flexibility was an issue for everyone.  Not just women.  Future efforts would certainly discuss the issue from an inclusive, gender neutral, business based perspective.  I was confident this would be the last high-profile, big media launch of a book or program that focused on work+life flexibility primarily in the context of women.

I was wrong.  The launch of A Woman’s Nation was even bigger and bolder.  So, for what it’s worth and because people keep asking me, it’s time to answer the question, “What do I think?”  First, let me say a couple of things.  Like Womenomics, The Shriver Report is well done and well intentioned.   In fact, two of my favorite thinkers, Brad Harrington of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, and the writer/feminist, Courtney Martin, contributed excellent chapters.  Issues such as pay inequity, lack of representation in senior levels, and sharing of care responsibilities are all important issues to discuss specifically as they relate to women, but

We really, seriously, once and for all, need to stop talking about the need for work+life flexibility solely in the context of women!

Why?  Four reasons:

It’s not true that women have the greatest need for flexibility in work and life

Both men and women do.  More flexibility for men means more flexibility for women.  And it doesn’t include the multiple ways businesses benefit from making flexibility in how, when and where work is done part of the day-to-day operating model including:Impacts graphic

I fear it inadvertently reinforces the Motherhood Penalty

As Kanter award-winning researcher Shelley J. Correll of Stanford University found in two separate studies: Evaluators consistently rated mothers less competent and less committed to paid work than non-mothers, and childless women received 2.1 times as many callbacks as mothers with similar credentials.  There’s a deep, entrenched bias in the system that says if you hire a mother, it’s a problem.  So don’t hire her.  (Check out the work of Harvard’s Mahrazin Banaji for more on entrenched bias—hat tip: Maryella Gockel, of E&Y).

When a book, report or press conference is entitled Womenomics or A Woman’s Nation, no matter how much you say, “It’s not just about women,” it is about women.   By linking the need for greater work+life flexibility so directly and publicly to women and mothers, I’m afraid it perpetuates this inaccurate perception that mothers are the only ones who can’t make it work without extra accommodations.  It doesn’t challenge or change the prejudice.

It further isolates men, who want to be part of the conversation but won’t participate is something they perceive to be a “women’s thing.” (Really, you can’t blame them.)

Today, work+life strategies are ghettoized outside of the day-to-day operating model of business.  In many organizations work+life issues are discussed, if not solely, then primarily as part of the women’s initiative.  In the media, coverage of the topic is confined almost exclusively to women’s magazines or articles focused on women.  Even though research shows that men suffer from higher levels of work+life conflict than women, and are just as interested in work+life strategies.  But they are usually left out in the cold.

My experience is that if you make the discussion gender neutral, and get senior line leadership support, the men will flood in.  A couple of years ago, I conducted a series of work+life fit strategy seminars at an investment bank.   The first two sessions were sponsored by the company’s women’s leadership group.  Although men “are encouraged and welcome to attend,” not surprisingly, the majority of attendees were women.  A few brave men were scattered about the room.  Curious, I stopped one of the men at the end of the session and said, “If this wasn’t sponsored by the women’s group would more guys show up?”  Without hesitation, he responded with a smile, “Of course, most men don’t go to a chick event.”

I suggested to the HR leader in charge of the series, “Why don’t we get individual business unit leaders to sponsor the remaining three sessions, and ask the women’s leadership group if they would become a silent partner?  Maybe we’ll get more men to show up.”  The head of the women’s group thought it was a great idea, but the HR leader wasn’t so sure, “Well, okay, but don’t be surprised if only a few attend.”  P.S. the last three sessions were so popular that they added a fourth session.  And more than half of the attendees were men.  The HR leader and the male business leaders who sponsored the seminars now understood that work+life flexibility wasn’t just a woman’s issues, but an issue for everyone.

It allows us avoid the hard work we need to do to make flexibility part of the way business operates and individuals manage their lives.

Isolating work+life flexibility as a women’s issue is a feel-good, red herring.   What we really need to do is fundamentally rethink how we all work, manage our lives and run our businesses.   That’s going to require innovation and creativity which is not easy.  Today, rapid change and uncertainty are the norm, making flexibility and resilience imperative if we are to thrive.

Hopefully A Woman’s Nation is the last public, high-profile media event that so directly and publicly links work+life flexibility and women for all the reasons I listed above.  Going forward, let’s focus money, firepower, effort, and exposure on the truth that it’s about all of us, which, in turn, will help women more.  What do you think?

Test Your Perceptions vs. Work+Life Reality–NSCW Implications

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“The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!  The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!”  Yes, that’s how I responded when I received the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW). Ever since I worked at Families and Work Institute, the NSCW has been one of my favorite pieces of research (yes, I have favorite pieces of research).  Not only does the NSCW offer a very accurate snapshot of the prevailing work+life reality in a given period of time.  But, more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to step back and see if the way we are collectively talking about and thinking about work and life matches reality.  In my opinion, it doesn’t.

My recent conversation with a female MBA student at one of the top business schools provides a perfect example.  She called to interview me for the student newspaper and wanted some tips for women MBAs about how to manage their work and life after they got out of school.  My first tip—“Realize that managing work and life isn’t just an issue for women.  In fact, men report higher levels of work-life conflict.”  Not surprisingly, she responded, “What? Really?” It wasn’t until I showed her the results of the NSCW, and she confirmed the findings with male MBA students that she began to understand how outdated her assumptions were.

Here are other highlights from the NSCW that together create a snapshot of today’s work-life reality.  As you read, ask yourself, does the picture below inform the way:
•    I think about and talk about work-life issues (even if different than my own circumstances)?
•    My manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

Reality #1: Women and men under 29 years old are equally likely to want jobs with greater responsibility, which was not the case in the past when men were more likely to report wanting more responsibility.

Reality #2: Women under 29 years old with children are no less likely than women without children to want jobs with more responsibility, which was not the case in the past when women with children were less likely to want jobs with more responsibility.

Reality #3: Women’s labor force participation continues to increase, with 71% of mothers with children under the age of 18 working in 2007.  In 2005-2006, women earned a majority of all bachelor’s degrees (58%) and master’s degrees (60%).

Reality #4: 79% of married employees are part of a dual-earner couple (up from 66% in 1977).  In 2008, women contributed 44% of the annual dual-earner family income, up from 39% in 1997, which makes the loss of their jobs even more detrimental.

Reality #5: For the first time in 2008, the percentage of men and women who agree with the statement that “it’s better for all involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children” was inconsequential and not significantly different (42% of men and 39% of women in 2008, versus 74% of men and 52% of women in 1977).

Reality #6: In 2008, 73% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that “a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work,” a big increase from 58% in 1977. Interestingly, even though a majority of men agreed with the statement in 2008 (67%), they do still lag behind the women (80%).

Reality #7: Employed fathers are spending significantly more time with their children under 13 than they did in 1977, with millennial fathers reporting the biggest increase.  Men are also:
•    Taking more responsibility for the care of the children (49% say they take more or equal share of care in 2008, versus 41% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the cooking (56% of men in 2008, versus 34% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the house cleaning (53% of men in 2008 versus 40% in 1992).

Reality #8: Not surprisingly, “Men’s reported level of work-life conflict has risen significantly from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008, while women’s work-life conflict has increased less dramatically and not significantly: from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008.” And the level of conflict is even higher for dual-earner fathers, with 59% experiencing some or a lot of conflict in 2008, versus 45% of dual-earner mothers.

What did you think?  Does the reality outlined above inform the way:
•    You think about and talk about work-life issues?
•    Your manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

I think we have a long way to go before the perceptions and the debate related to work-life issues on all of these levels matches reality.  Hopefully, the NSCW will help close the gap. What do you think?

A couple of interesting work-life resources/opportunities:

  1. Work & Family Life is a monthly, cost-effective magazine that companies and organizations can distribute to their employees.  Work & Family Life is full of great work-life related information (click here to view a recent issue).  For more information contact the publisher, Dr. Susan Ginsburg at workfam@aol.com or 1-800-278-2579
  2. Are you a mom interested in sharing what it was like to transition from working woman to working mom?  FWO Consulting is conducting a national online survey of moms to learn more about this often challenging change.  To learn more about FWO and the survey, go to http://www.fwoconsulting.com/.   Another resource for women transitioning to motherhood is provided by Rachel Egan at Maternity Transitions www.rachelegan.com.