Elin Cherry, writing for Forbes, would like to see business-friendly changes in the workplace that make it easier for future generations of working mums. Here’s how she suggests making this happen…
The words we use matter
The words we choose can make all the difference. Like most women, I have been in the habit of referring to the challenges we face as “working mother issues.” But words such as “women’s issues” or “diversity inclusion” serve to exclude men from participating in the dialogue. If we begin addressing these issues as “family matters” it will encourage men to become involved in the conversation, and buy-in for change will be easier. Often actions need to change before beliefs.
Many women I know will quickly nod in appreciation when they hear of a situation or example of an employer who was supportive of an issue regarding family. But many of these women also say they often feel that the unspoken—and sometimes actually voiced—view is, “there she goes again” or “I don’t want to be ‘that woman.’ ” When women are about to take a leave to have a baby or other family issue, instead of hearing “when will you be back?” it would be refreshing to hear “I have your back.”
We need new avenues for advancement
Timing of career escalation is a significant roadblock for women who wish to engage in the workforce at a professional and executive level. Traditional business school timing, as well as advancement in top law and consulting firms, occurs during a woman’s prime childbearing years. Business schools with access to influential corporations and investment banks require participation in two-year residence programs, which take students away from their family. Law and consulting firms also typically require the most gruelling work hours during an employee’s late 20’s and through their 30’s. This is of course the stage when many women (and men) are in the midst of the most time-consuming portion of raising a family.
Why not change the model? Business schools could strive to become virtual, and residency requirements could become obsolete. Law and consulting firms could pay, promote, and offer reward systems based on quality of work and efficiency rather than quantity of hours.
“Family leave” instead of “maternity leave” is a goal that all employers should strive for. Currently top employers are offering—and some even require—family leave for men as well as women. The stigma of family leave needs to be removed for both genders so that it becomes an accepted practice for all and not a career penalty.
Flexibility is long overdue
It is long past due for employers to focus on content, quality, and production versus face time. Flexible work hours should become the norm. Pay, promotion, and rewards systems should be configured to take into account production and quality. Flexible work hours should not be viewed as a privilege but something that all employees have access to and are encouraged to utilize.