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.