A Revolution for the Next Generation

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of business students from the University of Utah who are at the very beginning of their careers. Although I don't feel particularly old, I took on the role of the older, experienced guide, recounting the days of yore and how much has changed since I entered the workforce. My point was that they have the opportunity and the responsibility to finish a revolution that was started decades ago: when technology infiltrated the workplace, we simply overlaid it over the existing male competitive model - the "in the office" "primary breadwinner" model - without adapting the workplace itself to technology's new capabilities. That workplace adaptation is now the revolution of their generation. It was a blast to speak to them and I hope I have more opportunities to speak in the future.

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The conversation got me thinking about the historical trajectory of women in the workplace which informs my Gender Optimization philosophy. In the mid-twentieth century, a successful women’s movement opened the doors of opportunity to the female half of the population. The challenge at that time was to provide equal access to opportunity and then allow enough time to go by to let the talent pipeline fill up. But as Carolyn Buck Luce has observed, “The reasoning was simple: if you eliminated barriers and created a truly level playing field so that men and women competed on equal terms, then, over time, as successive cohorts of well-qualified female professionals filled the pipeline, women would eventually be fairly represented in top jobs. This has not happened.” What was not anticipated, it seems, is that women are not “men in skirts,” to use Shirley Conran’s famous phrase. Many qualified professional women have different motivations and fulfillment factors and find it difficult to thrive in the male competitive model. Although much ink and speech has been used to train women on how to be more like men with the good intention of arming them for the male competitive model, the Seneca Council sees an opportunity for the workplace to change, not just the women in it.

The Seneca Council is contributing to a second revolution, one in which women work hand in hand with men to evolve the modern workplace to  meet the needs of the modern worker. This revolution already benefits from having dedicated soldiers in the trenches - skilled academicians, advocacy and research groups, foundations - but it can be strengthened by more momentum, different approaches and more variety of voices.

Me visiting my dad's Wall Street law firm in 1987, with my dad's secretary Annette and her enormous typewriter. I was even dressed like a boy to visit the office.

Me visiting my dad's Wall Street law firm in 1987, with my dad's secretary Annette and her enormous typewriter. I was even dressed like a boy to visit the office.

The traditional male competitive model functions on the premise that more worker time results in more revenue, and that more revenue is always the ultimate goal. More “time” has been defined by years of experience, hours in the office, willingness to work however much and whenever needed, and a boundaryless dedication to supporting the product. These qualities have been perceived as producing more billable hours, promoting loyalty from clients, allowing for faster work, and giving an edge over competition. The Seneca Council, however, asserts that this competitive model excludes all other elements of a fulfilling and well-rounded life, and with the economies of the 21st century demanding more and more two income families, fewer individual workers can pay the price exacted by this 20th century model. In addition, research continues to provide evidence that happier, thriving workers produce better and more work in the long term.

Princeton professor and former State Department policy planner Anne-Marie Slaughter talks of “two complementary human drives: competition, the impulse to pursue our self-interest in a world in which others are pursuing theirs, and care, the impulse to put others first.” While these two motivators drive men and women alike, the 20th century workforce was built largely on the genderfication of these drives: Men claimed the competitive (public) sphere and women claimed (were assigned to?)  the caring (domestic) sphere. Thus each drive was satisfied communally, even if not individually.

With the rise of women in the workplace, the default caregivers of past years are no longer fully dedicated to the care of children, elders and home, resulting in a communal shortfall but also an individual famine in many women’s souls. Caregiving, Slaughter states, has been devalued and discriminated against to the point that women who attempt to both care and compete are penalized in their careers and never recover. Motherhood, in fact, is one of the primary indicators of poverty, with 40% of single mothers falling below the poverty line. The workplace rewards those who can outsource caregiving to someone else, and it places a low financial value on those for whom caregiving is their professional skillset.

Because care is still considered a predominantly female activity, women who prioritize care (of children, of elders, of self) at some point in their career often find themselves dropping out of the competitive model and having difficulty jumping back into it. As Carolyn Buck Luce has said, “We need to develop work environments where women can both take charge and take care.”

What We Need

The answer is not to send women back into unpaid caregiving roles and let the men continue indulging their competitive drives. The Seneca Council believes that, while women have embraced more competitive pursuits but are still expected to provide needed care, the door leading to men’s embrace of care has not yet swung wide open. The answer, we believe, is in adapting the 21st century workplace so that women and men can nurture both their competitive and caregiving drives equally, by having equal access to flexible work policies and individualized career paths. The Seneca Council wants to reward companies that allow both women and men to successfully manage a caring role as part of their time commitments, and still be challenged, rewarded and fulfilled in the workplace.

Too often today, women especially feel the tension between competing and caring is impossible to manage, resulting in gender gaps in the workplace as women “off ramp” but never on-ramp again, or as they take part-time but more flexible jobs that don’t keep them on an upward trajectory. As Patricia Fili-Krushel, executive vice president of administration at Time Warner has said, “Women who leave or languish are, in effect, the canaries in the coal mine, the first and most conspicuous casualties of an out-dated, dysfunctional career model.” These gaps will never fully close unless companies believe in the productivity and cultural health benefits that come from gender optimization, and then experience those benefits. GO Certification identifies how a company can claim these benefits and offers a competitive advantage by celebrating the company’s existing efforts.


 

 

Gender Optimization in Utah: Podcast with Silicon Slopes

I delighted to announce that Clint Betts of Silicon Slopes has invited me to organize a Gender Optimization committee, dedicated to studying and enacting gender optimization here in Utah, specifically among our tech community. As a Utah resident, I love this state and am enthusiastic about doing anything I can to rectify some of the unique challenges we have in our workplaces here. 

To kick off my relationship with Silicon Slopes, Clint and I recorded a podcast episode discussing the issue of the wage gap here in Utah. Listen here or below. I'd love to hear your comments here about what you believe are some of Utah's unique assets and challenges.

Our Three-Fold Focus

A few days ago, Gallup introduced a report called State of the American Workplace, which revealed that nothing short of a full workplace revolution is needed to lift employee engagement and productivity from all time lows. 33% of American employees are engaged at work. That means 67% of American employees aren't. 

While this workplace revolution feels like a massive undertaking - and it is - the Seneca Council identifies three areas that can be improved in the modern American workplace. These are the areas where we dedicate our observations and recommendations in an effort to increase engagement and productivity in every kind of workplace.

1. Keeping women in the workforce and equally rewarding their work. Despite academic research demonstrating companies’ increased financial and cultural strength when women are equally and fully represented, stubborn challenges still exist. Specifically:

·       Women still only comprise 4.4% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions. Similar representation persists in smaller companies.

·       Women continue to earn less than men (between 79% and 92%)

·       Women continue to be overrepresented in low-paying industries and occupations, partly because lifestyle demands rule out more rewarding occupational choices (the “motherhood wage penalty”)

·       Work cultures continue to play into stereotypes, alienating women from peers and promotion opportunities.

·       Women’s ambitions are different from men’s: money is less important for women, but they value high-quality colleagues, recognition by bosses, and flexible work options. 29% of women off ramp primarily because jobs are not satisfying or meaningful.

·       A University of Massachusetts study found that for every child a woman has, her salary decreases by 4% — and that penalty is worse for low-wage workers. But for men, fatherhood increases earnings by more than 6%.

2.   Creating and promoting customized career paths. The Seneca Council is particularly interested in the availability of “off ramps” and “on ramps” for women in the workplace, responding to these statistics that indicate a “loss upon reentry” for a large number of qualified women:         

·       60% of women have “non linear” careers, meaning they take time off or take advantage of flexible schedules

·       93% of women who off ramp want to rejoin employment, but only 74% manage to do so

·       Among the 74%, only 40% return to full-time mainstream jobs

·       Those who return to mainstream jobs are penalized or stigmatized, resulting in fewer promotions and less job satisfaction

·       24% take part time jobs

·       9% become self-employed

·       Only 12% of Americans have access to paid parental leave, and 23% of new mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth

·       Two in five women do not qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the only federal protection for unpaid, protected job leave.

3. Engaging men in customized paths. A third area of focus for the Seneca Council is the persistence of the traditional workplace’s hold on men. Gender optimization means not only that women have the opportunity to balance their ambition with their care of others, but that men too have these opportunities. A key aspect of keeping and growing women in the workforce is offering and destigmatizing non-linear opportunities for men too, so that the whole competitive model changes, not just the women in it.

·       A 2013 Pew Research study titled “Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family” found equal levels of stress among mothers and fathers regarding caring for children, indicating fathers would like to spend more time with their children.

·       Responding to the persistent stereotypes of men as breadwinner exclusively, Anne-Marie Slaughter observes, “The majority of American mothers in the twenty-first century are raising daughters with more life paths open to them than are open to our sons.”

While not a cure-all, these three areas offer ample opportunities for study and change, giving companies a leg up in increasing the engagement and productivity of their employees. The Seneca Council is eager to be a partner in this journey. 

The Truth is Most Women Pause...

One of the most exciting things for me in breaking into the world of workplace gender consulting is witnessing how freely people are now discussing the role of family and children in their lives. Creating gender optimized workplaces that prioritize healthy schedules, location options, and employee interactions isn't about making sure people can get to their 6pm yoga class on time. It's about making sure our next generation of citizens and workers are getting the care and attention they need from balanced, fulfilled adults so they can grow up to be strong contributors themselves.

“America has a message for new mothers who work and for their babies:” says Jessica Shortall sarcastically in a TED Talk that has been viewed 1.3 million times. “Whatever time you get to have together, you should be grateful for it. And, you’re an inconvenience. To the economy and to your employers….We know that there are staggering economic, financial, physical, and emotional costs to [not offering paid maternity leave]. We have decided - decided - to pass these costs directly onto working mothers and their babies.” Shortall’s biting message hits home because it is (currently) true. As the only developed nation in the world without mandated paid leave policies, the United States needs to continue to wrestle with how to compete in an ever expanding global economy and produce an educated, healthy and soulful generation for the future.

But more and more people, like Shortall, are calling out our hypocrisy. This week I'm reading the newly released Work PAUSE Thrive by advertising executive and journalist Lisen Stromberg. Her thesis is that many successful women - many more than we hear about - have "paused" their career at one time or another for various lengths of time. And they've still managed to find personal fulfillment, career growth and achievement of "success." Walking through the door opened by Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic article, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All," Stromberg speaks openly about the need for parents to prioritize family time at various points. "Putting the needs of one's family ahead of one's career can be hard," Stromberg says, "but for the vast majority of those who choose to do so, it is exactly the right decision. It is time we come to recognize that those who place the personal before the professional aren't failures; they are career innovators who have the courage and grit to risk it all for that which matters most to them."

As a "career innovator" myself who has worked in various situations over the years and moved in and out of full time work while raising three daughters, I was deeply moved by Stromberg's endorsement. "We need a new narrative that recognized the realities of women's (and men's) lives. We need to understand that, for most, pausing isn't a choice, it's a last resort solution. We need to support those who pause to care for family. And, we need to help them keep their pauses brief so they can bring their full talents back to the workforce as soon as possible." Stromberg's statement here reminded me of a recent New York Times article which debunks the myth that the only women who "opt out" are the 1%ers who can afford to. "Why Women Quit Working: It's Not for the Reasons Men Do" demonstrates that sometimes it is easier and most cost effective for women to not work when they have caring responsibilities: "Women’s lower wages and family responsibilities have always batted them in and out of jobs — and in and out of the labor force — with much more frequency than men. A sick child or a family emergency can quickly push someone out of a job." Finding flexible work is essential for those for whom quitting is a "last resort," and getting them back into the workforce quickly should indeed be a priority.

The Seneca Council aims to award companies that support the needs of "career innovators," both male and female. Many companies are taking the challenge of supporting employees' family needs seriously, and these companies should receive the recognition they deserve. Our GO Certification celebrates those special places, and our consulting services help others to move toward being one of those places.

 

Why An Ethnographic Approach?

Anyone who's worked at more than one company knows that each workplace has its own culture and atmosphere. Even with similar policies and structures in place, the experience in one workplace can vary wildly from the experience in another. Add that to the fact that most women look for and need very different things out of work than men do, and it becomes clear that just looking at a checklist of policies and benefits doesn't tell the full story of an employee's experience at a company. The GO Certification addresses this problem.

When my first child was born, for example, I pumped and stored milk in a basement closet equipped with a folding chair and a mini fridge. I recently visited a workplace that had a dedicated room right off of the main bullpen area, equipped with rocking lounge chairs, a changing table should baby be in the office that day, a sink and fridge. Both companies can claim they have lactation facilities on paper, but the experiences for the actual employees couldn't be more different. 

Similarly, most women have sat in meetings where ideas they've stated have been at first ignored but then restated and claimed by a male colleague. Meeting dynamics such as this cannot though be represented in a quantitative data summary. Workplace culture, and specifically gender culture, is perceived differently by each sex, affected by unconscious bias, and shaped by generations of shoehorning women into male competitive models. Trained independent assessors, we believe, observing gender interactions are the best mechanism for assuring that workplace cultures are as healthy as they aspire to be.

At the Seneca Council, we believe that third-party, independent assessments are the best way to assure that companies are not sabotaging their own policies by overlooking the element of human interaction and real lived experience. Independent assessments offer an objective check on whether policies and benefits are living up to their promise, or are simply lip service. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett explains in her book Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success, it is more important to women that the human elements of workplace interactions are rewarding and satisfying to them. A study by International Survey Research revealed that men's top two drivers at work are career advancement (20 percent) and financial rewards (10 percent), while for women the top two drivers are working with people they respect at work (14 percent) and creating a quality product (10 percent). Career advancement and financial rewards do not even make it into the top four picks by women in this study, suggesting that women emphasize values and behaviors in their evaluation of their work experience, while men emphasize compensation and benefits. This distinction is key to understanding why an ethnographic approach to assessing workplaces is essential to evaluating the experience through a female employee's eyes.

It is no longer good enough to have a paid maternity policy on the list of company benefits (even though having one is a good start and more than many companies). Does the new mother feel ostracized for taking time off? Do male colleagues wonder why she got a free vacation? Is she passed over for promotion after returning? Do her male colleagues also take advantage of the company's paternity leave, or is that just not done? These are the kinds of emotional but highly important questions the Seneca Council asks as we help companies recruit, retain and maximize the potential of both women and men. 

This post was also published on LinkedIn on January 25, 2017.