STRADDLING THE FENCE


I realized this morning that it has been weeks and weeks since I last wrote a blog post.  Blogging has become such a way of life for me but, apparently, my life has been getting in the way of my way of life.  My life has not slowed down and there certainly has been plenty to write about – I still suffer through my daily struggles of trying to continue my healthy journey, I have the normal ups and downs in my relationships and I glean new insights from my work – every.single.day.  Yet, with all that is happening, I have not been able to find the time to slow myself down to catch my breath and check in, even if just for myself.

Several weeks ago I had some travel away from home and was gone for 10 days.  It was officially the longest I had ever been away from my husband and kids in one stretch and I knew it would take its toll.  I was pretty excited about my travel, though, because it started with a quick weekend away with an old friend and was immediately followed up with an intense week of work with my business partners in the midwest.  I knew these days were going to be transformational for me in many ways so I had great anticipation for what my journeys might bring.

My girls’ weekend ended up taking the shape of a bit of a midlife crisis weekend (or, at least, that is what I dubbed it).  I got my first tattoo and my first massage (and shame on me for waiting until midlife for the massage!).  The tattoo was meaningful in that it symbolized a change in myself that I was extremely proud of and marked a new phase of my life.  The massage, aside from being extremely relaxing and therapeutic, also marked some symbolism in my life because it represented a sense of indulgence and release that I had not before permitted myself to experience.  Instead of buying myself a convertible or running off to Jamaica with a younger man, I decided to indulge in myself and nurture the parts of me that needed to be tended to.  I also tried to stare down the realities that I am probably a bit further than midlife at this point and that, while my best years may still lie ahead, there are likely to be far fewer of them than what had already passed.  That is a pretty sobering thought.

When I continued on with my journey to my work meetings, I managed to catapult myself from my midlife crisis focus to building my future.  It was a great week of meetings, inspiration, collaboration and a few personal breakthroughs for me that I will forever remember and be grateful for.  As I returned home from the 10-day tour of duty, I felt disconnected and disjointed, not sure where I belonged.  I love my family and my heart broke every time my 8 year-old son texted me “I love you more than life” and, yet, I felt like a stranger intruding into someone else’s life when I got back.  Of course their lives had gone on while I was away.  Both my boys looked like they each grew a foot while I was gone and my tween son was that much more bottled up and unwilling to even hug me when I came in the door.  He could never admit he missed me.  My husband was suffering the pains of having to hold down the household for nearly 2 weeks without the support and assistance of a partner.  He was battle weary.  I was lost, trying to transition from my friends and work back into my family and responsibilities.  I was straddling two different worlds, not sure which one I best belonged in.

It is not uncommon for many of us, particularly parents, to be challenged by the disruption caused by immersing oneself into work and then trying to emerge and return to “normal” life.  Those of us who travel a lot for work or who have particularly intense jobs often live in a suspended state where we love everything in our lives but sometimes wish we were at work when we are at home with our families and desperately miss our families when we are away at work.  It’s a classic Catch 22 scenario.  Layer on top of that the guilt associated with feeling like you are not completely present in either (frankly, in my case, I feel like I am always more present at work and tend to be less present when it comes to my family and, for this, I am not proud).  I feel like I spend so much of my time lamenting about what I am not doing that I find it difficult to simply enjoy wherever it is that I am.  After all, both sides of my life are very appealing.  I love my work and my business partner is my best friend so, when we get to be together working, it is a double pleasure.  We have a magical quality to our work and our relationship that makes work feel more like play and who wouldn’t want more of that.  On the other hand, my family is my heart.  They are what makes me tick.  My children bring joy to my life in unexplainable and unimaginable ways.  My husband is the only constant in my life for the past two decades.  He is my support system and my rock.  My friends in my community are an extension of my family and make me feel connected in the world.  Who would ever want to leave that behind?

It’s an amazing conundrum that challenges me on many fronts.  I feel like I have to work that much harder to maintain all my relationships because sometimes I only have small chunks of time to work with to make my impact.  I have to be very conscious about being present and not distracting myself with my work when I am spending time having lunch or coffee with a friend.  I have to be much more deliberate about focusing when I am doing activities with my kids and husband because it is easy for me to pull out the phone, check my email or let my mind wander to the many details of my business.  I need to release myself from the guilt I feel when I am away from kids, trusting that they will not be blogging 20 years from now to try to overcome the pain they endured by having a sometimes-absentee mom.  It’s a lot to manage.  But, in the end, I suppose this would be what they refer to as a “first world problem.”  I am so fortunate to be able to get to run my own business, travel, luxuriate in collaboration and imagination.  And, I am even more fortunate to have love everywhere I turn.  I am blessed with children who, while growing by leaps and bounds every time I turn my back, give me the grounding I need to find my footing when I seem to be a little off balance.

I know I am not alone in this.  I know, even in my intimate circle of friends, there are many of us who struggle in a similar way.  Nonetheless, sometimes it feels really lonely and isolating and sometimes getting lost in my thoughts about this takes me away from some pretty important stuff – like remembering to blog…

WOMEN’S ADVANCEMENT??


“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.
Life’s a bitch.  You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” – Maya Angelou

Here’s the deal. I am getting more and more frustrated when it comes to talking about equity for women in the workplace.  The statistics are not improving, women are opting out more than ever before and I have to wonder if there is a real solution to the increasing challenges women face in terms in having equity in the workplace.

For years I have been studying this topic.  Back in the early 2000s when I worked at Working Mother Media, we looked at the topic from the lens of working mothers and struggled with the notion of workplace flexibility.  It’s disappointing and scary that nearly 10 years later we are having the very same conversations and nothing has improved.  I have to ask the question of why.

Yesterday, as I was partaking in my daily ritual of tweeting and catching up on all the current news I can absorb in 140 characters or less, I came across the youtube video of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2010 TED talk on why we have so few women leaders in the world.  Coincidentally, on this same day, I came across on Facebook, courtesy of my friends at Flexpaths, a story from CNN about Sandberg admitting that she leaves work at 5:30pm.  Why is this news?  In my opinion, if it was about a male Fortune 500 CEO confessing that he slips out of the office early to spend time with his kids or attend their soccer games, that would be groundbreaking and would set a different tone, certainly in his workplace.  In reality, however, Sandberg telling her story is the equivalent of preaching to the choir.  Despite the fact that she is a powerful and busy COO, she is still a woman and it is expected that she would figure out a way to try to balance work and family.

Sandberg had some very clear views about what is holding women back and cited some interesting facts in her talk:

  • Out of 190 heads of state in the world, only 9 are women
  • Of all the Parliament members in the world, only 13% are women
  • Women represent only 20% of the leaders of nonprofit organizations (bucking the theory that nonprofits are a place where women can excel into leadership roles)

I’ll add to this my own stats:  Less than 3% of the Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.  (Although, curiously, of the 100 most successful companies in the world, 6% are run by women which makes me wonder if they are more successful because of the greater presence of women leaders….).  Women represent only 16% of equity partners in law firms and 16% of the seats in Congress.  16% has long been this magical number for women.  We seem to hover right there in terms of significant representation.  When we look at Board seats, the answer is 16% representation by women.  Let’s face it, this is all terrible news.  In the 10 years since I started tracking this data at Working Mother, nothing has changed.  Nothing at all.  Well, nothing except that the problem is getting worse because we are not making any headway.

Sandberg suggests that there are several critical issues that need to be addressed in order to change the reality for women in leadership.  First of all, we need to keep women in the workforce to ensure that they ultimately gain access to the high income jobs.  We know that women are opting out of the traditional workforce at higher rates than ever before.  Whether it be to stay at home and raise a family or to start their own businesses, women are not willing to play the game.  This exodus from corporate jobs creates a void of potential women leaders.  Of course, we should celebrate the fact that women feel empowered to change their career paths, take risks and become entrepreneurs but this fact is hurting our economy because there is no doubt that women leaders yield strong business results.  Without a rich talent pool to draw from, businesses suffer and lose the opportunity to both increase gender equity in the senior ranks as well as benefit from the strengths that women uniquely bring to the table.

Another challenge Sandberg identified as an obstacle for women is that they underestimate their own abilities.  This is one I can certainly relate to on a personal level as I am sure many women can.  It is very hard for women to promote themselves in the same way that men do.  Sandberg cited research that suggested that while men will frequently take credit for their own successes, women often attribute it to other influences or the fact that they got lucky.  In addition, women are less likely to negotiate for themselves when it comes to compensation which directly results in the gender disparity in pay.  It has been reported that 57% of men negotiated their first salaries compared to only 7% of women.  (I shared this stat with a group of women this morning and, after shaking their heads they agreed that this is very accurate.)  Sandberg attributes a lot of this to social influences because, as a society, there is certainly more pressure and expectation put on mean to succeed.  Stay-at-home dads are not always celebrated and working moms are often criticized.

Women are challenged with the likability factor, which is a key obstacle as well.  Success and likability are positively correlated for men while it is negatively correlated for women.  In other words, the more successful a women, the less likable we perceive her to be.  Sandberg cited one study that illustrates this phenomenon perfectly. In it, Columbia Biz School prof Frank Flynn and colleague Cameron Anderson at NYU offered their students a case study of a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist named Heidi Roizen. But she was only called Heidi in the case study given to half their students; in the other, Heidi became Howard.

And guess what happened?

While the students rated Heidi and Howard equally competent, they liked Howard–but not Heidi. In fact, according to a synopsis of the study, students felt Heidi was significantly less likable and worthy of being hired than Howard. Why? Students saw Heidi as more “selfish” than Howard.

Is it any wonder we don’t want anyone calling us ambitious?

The final factor that Sandberg cited was that women often leave before they leave.  Ironically, the actions women take to try to stay in the workforce ultimately lead to them leaving.  For instance, if a woman is thinking about starting a family or is recently pregnant, she is likely to pass up opportunities for stretch assignments or promotions.  Recognizing that she will have to step aside for a period of time after the birth of the child, a woman tends to feel morally obligated to say no rather than take on the assignment or new role and deal with it when the baby is born.  As a result, between pregnancy, maternity leave and the ramp-up period after returning to work, women are often losing close to 2 years of opportunity for engagement and advancement in their careers as a result of building their families.  We are doing this to ourselves because we tend to lean back even when we are thinking about having a baby.  These rules need to change.

Overall, the most concerning part of Sandberg’s talk, for me, was her realization that this generation will never see equity in the workplace.  The divide is still so great and we simply do not have the time or the numbers to make up the difference.  It is up to the young women – and men- who are just now entering the workforce to change the game.  And it is up to today’s leaders to be open to look at the problem differently.  Women are always going to have babies and, even though we know that only 1/3 of executive women have children compared to 2/3 of executive men, that is not going to change.  In fact, we know that millennials are even more interested in having families and want to do so at a younger age. They reject the idea that women need to establish themselves before they can start a family.  Perhaps the corporate culture will change their thinking about that but I hope the millennial women – a sizable force to be reckoned with – will buck the system and prove that career and family are not mutually exclusive for women or men.

And, most importantly, it is time for the guys to have a voice in this revolution.  The men are still in charge and have the power.  By becoming role models for how we look at work and making sure to support women as they climb the corporate ladder and navigate the challenging terrain of carrying on the human race while also helping to keep the economy afloat, men are perhaps the secret sauce.  We often keep them out of this conversation as if they are our mortal enemies but, perhaps, they are the allies we have forgotten to embrace.

I am going to keep pining over this issue and will keep getting on my soapbox about it and, hopefully before my voice gets too old, I will see some real movement in these numbers.  In the meantime, we will continue to develop programs to support women and the men that can change their fate.  Stay tuned for some cool new programs coming from Ingenium Strategies to help build our future women leaders!

WORK LIFE DRAMA CLUB


“Man plans, God laughs” — Yiddish Proverb

This whole conversation of work/life balance is definitely fraught with controversy.  Many, including myself, would argue that there is no such thing as balance.  As a friend said to me recently, you’re always giving 100% – no matter what.  And, in my house, it is not just me giving 100% to everything, my husband does the same.  One would assume that with that 200% effort, we would actually be on top of it all but, in reality we still struggle to hold everything together.

Any of us who have spent any time working on, talking about or researching work/life will tell you that even if you have developed the best plan, it will all go out the window the minute something out of the ordinary pops up.  Whether it be an unexpected illness, a last-minute business trip, a crisis at the office or some other wrinkle that was not included in that original master plan, suddenly your strategy is blown and chaos ensues.  It is a tightrope walk for sure.

In my house, last week was one of those times when our perfectly planned strategy was abolished by a series of unplanned problems and interferences that threw everything out of whack.  On a positive note, it also forced us to regroup and reprioritize.  For someone like me who is a planner and likes to have a handle on what is happening at all times, unexpected events and challenges often throw me for a loop.  However, these occurrences are also often a chance to reset ourselves and force us to revisit our priorities and make some adjustments.  For my family, last week was just one of those times.

I was out of town on a business trip in the midwest the week before last.  Since I own my own business and pay for all of my own travel expenses, I tend to try to find the rock-bottom cheapest flights.  This often forces me to travel at inopportune times like super early in the morning or returning on a weekend day rather than racing back as soon as my meeting is done (boy, do I miss the corporate Amex!).  For this trip, I was scheduled to fly back early on Saturday morning in order to allow me to get back in time to pick my younger son up from his show rehearsal.  He was an ensemble member in his very first performance and was extremely excited about it – as were we despite the crazy rehearsal schedule that we really did not focus too much attention on.  We had already grown accustomed to his class schedules at the performing arts school and had worked in the biweekly rehearsals but we had not yet digested the intense tech schedule for the week leading up to the show.  More on that in a minute.

On top of the show rehearsal, I had to take my older son shopping to buy clothes for his upcoming band concert as well as attend a christening for our cousin’s new baby.  Plus, we had a basketball game on Sunday, another full-day of rehearsals for younger son’s show, the Giants were playing for a spot in the Super Bowl (which automatically cuts our own team in half because husband must be granted clemency to watch his beloved Giants clinch a spot) and I had to prepare for a client meeting on Monday for which I had to leave early as we were making a 4-hour drive (to save on travel costs).  Sigh…  Everything was planned down to the last minute.  Frankly, I really had not even planned beyond Monday because it was enough to just get us there.

Well, for those of you living in the NYC metro area, you will recall that last weekend we were going to have that first big winter storm and, in preparation, Continental Airlines cancelled my flight (and all flights) home to NJ on Saturday.  This all before a single flake had fallen or before they learned that the big storm would result in a massive 3 inches.  So, I was stuck in the midwest for an additional day and, right there, in a split second, the plan was blown.

There would be no pickup from rehearsal by me and now I had to coordinate all kinds of carpooling the next day to ensure that not only would my younger son have a ride to and from the theater but I would also have my own pickup from the airport.

My husband was tasked with the job of going out with my older son to procure black pants and a white shirt for the winter band concert (which, surprisingly enough, he did a great job with).

No one from my clan attended the cousin’s child’s christening as we were either in flight, at rehearsal, driving to or from rehearsal, procuring clothing or otherwise occupied picking up the slack.

There was little time for preparation for the important client meeting and we had to do a little bit of “winging it.” (That worked out surprisingly well too!)

Miraculously, we managed to do everything we needed to get through Monday.  But, in all of the angst of preparing for my return from the business trip and leaving on the next one, I really had not prepared for the week ahead.  First, I did not factor in that my younger son’s big musical production would require him to be at a theater 30 minutes away for two rehearsals during the week and all weekend long.  I had not realized that I was invited to attend my older son’s winter band concert which of course takes place smack in the middle of the workday (and would be expected – no excuses – to attend said concert).  I did not expect that our meeting would go so well on Monday that I would have two proposals to write during the week on top of the other work that was already piling up (since I had been out of town all the previous week).

Are you following all this?

Yes, a bit of a mess indeed.  It was Wednesday when I first began to process the magnitude of all that I had forgotten.  I knew that our weekend was pretty much tied up with my son’s show although I was committed to squeezing in a girl’s night with some friends and let my husband be the dutiful parent watching the show that night.  (Needless to say, that was one of the first alterations to the plan.)

I have probably been labeled a “joiner” more than once.  I tend to be very liberal with my volunteering and can easily be convinced (coerced) into helping out.  So, probably because of the meeting I had agreed to kick off on Tuesday night and the various breakfast meetings I agreed to attend as part of my volunteer work, I was tired and my resistance was low when my younger son asked me to hang around for his 5 hour rehearsal at the theater 30 minutes away from my home on Thursday (which sounded like a clever plan since I could make myself useful rather than schlepping back and forth).  The day before, I nearly ran out of gas on my way to the theater 30 minutes away from my home as I failed to actually pay attention to the loud beeps coming from my car telling me I was running out of gas.  Picture me navigating myself around towns without any clue as to where there might be a gas station and praying dearly that my limited fumes of gas would get us to a service station.  (Thankfully, my older son managed to keep his cool rather than his normal dialogue pointing out what a dope I am for not remembering to fill up before we got on the highway.) And, of course, I am managing all this while on a call with a colleague!

When I called my friend who was serving as a stage manager for the show to ask if I could be of any help while I was hanging around for the 5 hour rehearsal on Thursday, I was done in.  I had inadvertently sucked myself into the show and landed myself a role as a stage hand.  (By the way, after watching way too many episodes of “Dance Moms,” I was doing my best to stay away from the director and choreographers so as to not insert any additional drama!) I had become ingratiated with this show and was committed to supporting it for the entire weekend.

And I could not have been happier.

I had to throw all my plans out the window.  There would be no girls’ night for me.  I would be able to watch the show but wanted to be certain that I managed the responsibilities I had committed myself to.  I took this on like I would any project for work and gave it everything I had.  I raised my white flag, surrendered the schedule and just become part of this production to support my younger son.  Even though he had only a small part in the ensemble and spent most of his time hanging out with his little friends in between numbers and costume changes, I knew my being there and being part of the crew made him feel more special.  Granted, I was a bit of a theater geek back in high school so this was like a little flashback and I loved it.  I was cheering for all the leads and watching them do their pre-show routines.  I marveled at all the work that went into the quick costume changes, prop placement, moving of sets and all the other wonderful drama that goes on behind the scenes.  For several blissful days, nothing existed but the show and I forgot about all the foibles of the week that screwed up my schedule.  All that really mattered now was getting this production off and supporting my son in his FIRST BIG SHOW!

On Sunday morning when we were preparing for the final performance, I told my friend how tired I was and how surprised I was at how the show sucked up so much of my mental and physical energy. She laughed at me and asked when I was going to blog about this experience.  Well, here you go Kim!  Thanks for letting me be part of the magic and thanks for helping me remember that what happens in between our plans is what life is all about!

And congratulations to all the amazing kids who put on an incredible show!  Count me in for next year – maybe this time I’ll put it on the schedule!

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX


ImageEver since I left my traditional corporate job back in 2009 I have struggled with trying to develop a routine for myself that would enable me to fulfill my work responsibilities and take advantage of the opportunity to work mostly full-time from my home.  When I began my consulting career and started to see some success, I decided it was time to make the investment of building a private home office that was not a corner of the living room, a desk on the sun porch or my laptop at the dining room table.  We worked with a contractor, designed a space in the basement that included four walls and a door.  I spent a lot of money picking out nice furniture that allowed me to have a large desk, lots of storage and an aesthetic that would make the room feel like a space of my own and offer me an environment for maximum productivity.

I painted the walls purple.  I bought some pictures to hang on the wall.  I installed a TV with Fios.  I bought an iMac to complement my macbook pro.  I built myself a woman-cave.  I was in heaven.  I had faux-hardwood floors and, for the first time in my adult life, I truly had a “room of my own.”  That was about a year ago.

Now I have to force myself to go down there to work.

I was talking to a prospective client yesterday at her Wall Street office and we discussed the pros and cons of working from home full-time. Sure, it has its perks and I have lots of friends who envy my freedom and flexibility.  However, it also has many downsides.  There is nobody swinging by my office to chat in the morning while we sip our morning coffee.  There are no windows to stare out to look at the sights of the city or watch as the lights come on in all the skyscrapers on the dark winter afternoons.  There are no staff birthday parties to ceremoniously step out of my office to reluctantly attend.

I have been struggling to understand why this wonderful space (which, by the way, has some good karma because much good work has occurred in that room and many deals have been brokered in there), has become such a dreaded place for me.  Many experts, much smarter than me, will suggest that I need to set boundaries.  I need to create rituals of going to work and leaving work so as not to begin to feel swallowed up.  Others might suggest that my extroverted personality and the lack of sunlight in my office cause me to feel isolated and lonely and, therefore, trigger less than positive feelings about the space.  And others might suggest that I am simply lazy and don’t want to go to work.  All of those are probably true to some degree but I am all about solutions and learning how to process my feelings and learn from them.

So, one of my goals in the new year is to learn to love my space again and continue to be productive.  And, to make sure to feed my inner extrovert as much as possible.

MEN’S LIBERATION?


This morning I stumbled upon a piece I had written last year about gender stereotypes.  I spent a good portion of my time last year studying this topic through the lens of how it impacts children – particularly girls.  Being a lifelong feminist, I have always been out front supporting women’s issues and have believed that, as a woman, it is my obligation, to help advance the causes that help advance the women’s movement.  So, working on gender stereotypes as they relate to young girls was not a far leap for me.  Interestingly, what I found so surprising about this work is the sympathy for men that began to emerge when I started to study gender from both perspectives.

Uniting my professional areas of interest, I began looking at the stereotypes that men struggle with when it comes to finding some equilibrium with their life and work.  Naturally, we often think that men have it easy because they are always up for the stretch assignment and they are always in the pipeline for the C-Suite jobs.  Men have the advantage of being invited to the golf outings and cigar bars and can seamlessly maneuver their way into the inner circle.  But, this assumes that every man wants to be in the pipeline or that every man wants the stretch assignment or that every man wants to be at the golf outing or inside the inner circle.  We so often hear about women who have opted out of their careers in order to stay home with their kids or have a less stressful lifestyle where they can find more balance between work and family.  How often do we hear the same about men?

The Great Recession has shifted the balance of power in most families and this should be changing the equation for men.  When The Shriver Report was published last summer, there was so much press and buzz about how women were finally equal to men in the workforce with women representing 49.9% (compared to 35.5% a generation ago in 1969).  This, of course, is all great news for both men and women and corporate America.  There is so much evidence that women in the workplace – particularly mothers – increases productivity and, ultimately bottom-line performance.  And, while women are making 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, the gap continues to close and, perhaps, in my lifetime or my children’s, that margin will narrow even further.  So, what does all this mean for men?  A USA Today article in January 2009 reported that men were facing unemployment at much greater rates than women because of the industries in which they work.  Construction and manufacturing, heavily populated by men, were the hardest hit by the recession while healthcare and education had a bit more stability – industries where women represent nearly three quarters of the workforce.

So, going back to my original points, what does any of this have to do with how gender stereotypes impact men?

The reality for men is that they are equally – if not more so – impacted by the stereotypes imposed on them by our culture.  While many will agree that the role that men play as husbands and fathers has evolved significantly over the past several decades, it is still not unusual to hear – particularly in suburban communities – about the families where the dad works and the mom stays home to raise the kids.  In many of these communities, it would be highly unusual to see a dad at the playground during the day or a dad at pick-up after school.  Similarly, the men that work in more corporate environments tend to be more significantly impacted by stigmas about taking advantage of work/life offerings.  The stigmas, while different than the ones women face, are very difficult for dads to overcome.

Now, the question I ponder in 2010 versus when I originally started writing about the cement floor for men that affixes them to being in the role of breadwinner for the family, is whether or not this new normal created by the Recession will change the assumptions and expectations we, as a society have in regards to the roles men and women play both in the workplace and at home.  Sue Shellenbarger wrote a great piece in her column last week about the imbalance of benefits for dads vs moms and questioned whether men are discriminated against when it comes to work/family benefits and policies.  I would argue that men are absolutely discriminated against.  According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2009 Employee Benefits Report, only 15% of companies offer paid paternity leave.  The rest expect men to use sick leave or vacation time to be able to spend time with their new child and assist their wife or partner with the care of this child.  Shellenbarger reports in her column that the number of complaints coming from men about the availability of flex and family programs is increasing and that men are generally dissatisfied with how they are being treated in regards to these programs.

Fundamentally, I believe we have deep-rooted issues in the way we treat employees in general when it comes to strategies for helping them manage the multiple demands coming from their professional and personal lives.  And, as I have stated before, those companies that can make some headway in this area will have an enormous advantage over those that are stuck with their heads in the sand.  That being said, I also believe that we need to overcome our own struggles with stereotypical expectations that run along gender lines.  All the talk about the mommy wars – where are the daddy wars?  Why aren’t we more concerned about giving men the options they clearly crave to have choices when it comes to how they work.  The pressure on men to continue to conform to outdated models is still quite great – almost as great as the pressure on women to break through the glass ceiling.  We are getting more used to seeing men in caretaking roles simply because so many of them are out of work but it needs to become the new normal for men to be in those roles.

Tell me what you think about this topic.  Do you or your male spouse/partner have experiences you want to share?  Let’s see if there is any truth to all the hype.

WALKING THE TALK


I read everything I can about what companies are doing make progressive culture shifts in their workplaces.  I also talk to dozens and dozens of work/life and diversity practitioners to get a deeper understanding of the challenges they face to keep pace with the demands of their workforce and create work environments that will yield the greatest performance.  I was excited to have the opportunity last week to attend Working Mother Media’s Flexibility Leadership Summit.  The agenda was filled with practitioners, consultants, thought leaders, change agents and an array of talent all talking about how they were attempting to make the shift to a culture of flexibility.  The corporate leaders all talked about how much work they have done to gain support within their organizations for flexibility and all the associated programs they have created.  And, after spending over five years studying the practices at hundreds of major corporations while I ran the Working Mother Best Companies initiatives, I am acutely aware of the hard work they all put into these efforts.  However, I could not help but wonder how these programs are actually working in companies where employees, more often than not, are working 24/7 (thanks to our bittersweet love affair with technology – my iPhone is next to my bed every night, how about you?), there are more financial pressures than we have seen in decades and everyone is concerned about being the next one eliminated in a corporate layoff.  When I talked to people at the onset of the recession, I warned them about the enticement of backing off from their work/life programs (because everyone should be happy just to have a job) and that once the economy rebounds, those that maintained would win.  But despite the herculean efforts to maintain and even possibly improve the programs within their workplaces, the sheer force of reality, has had to have taken its toll on these programs.  So, I wonder if these companies are really able to walk the talk.  Even in the good old days before the recession, those of us that measured what companies were doing and tracked best practices wondered how aligned the policies were with the day-to-day realities of the workforce.

I applaud and support all the hard work these companies and their practitioners are doing to make the shift to Workplace 2.0 (or is it 3.0 now?).  The workplace of our fathers and grandfathers (note I did not say mothers and grandmothers) is beyond obsolete and the truth is that work and the workforce is changing so rapidly, it is hard to imagine that any company has the agility to be able to keep up.  Todd Sears from Credit Suisse, the host for the Flex Summit, showed us Did You Know? – a YouTube video that many have seen before but is worth sharing.  And, FlexPaths, one of the knowledge partners for the Summit, also talked about their great video Shift Happens.  Both of these are really powerful messages and reminders that the world is changing so fast and this little flex thing is part of a much bigger conversation.

And, of course, there is no one doing more to tackle this work than the Center for Work-Life Policy and the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, headed up by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.  Hewlett was the keynote speaker last week and, during her presentation, I found myself nodding in agreement and understanding while also further wondering how this culture shift is actually going to take place.  Hewlett spent most of her talk discussing research conducted for her new book Top Talent (a quick and great read – I highly recommend it).  She talked a lot about extreme jobs – those that demand a 60+ hour workweek along with other performance pressures.  The reality is that the individuals in these extreme jobs are actually working closer to 75+ hours a week and, in fact, nearly 45% of jobs in global corporations are extreme.  So, let’s do that math – nearly half of the workers in global companies are in extreme jobs and are working nearly twice the “normal” workweek.  So, if there are 120 hours in a workweek and these extreme workers are working during 75 of those hours and maybe sleeping 6 hours a night – at best – which represents another 30 hours, that leaves 15 hours each week free for things like family, exercise, meals, hygiene, commuting, etc.  That represents 3 hours per day.  Where’s the flexibility in that?

The truth is that today’s workers are stressed, disengaged and worried about keeping their jobs.  In a time when companies are creating programs and policies to allow their employees to work remotely and stagger or reduce their hours, workers are feeling more and more compelled to have face-time with their bosses in order to maintain a sense of relevance and hopefully avoid elimination.

This conundrum fascinates me and inspires me to do more to help both employers and employees find pathways to make it work.  There is still an enormous misalignment in many organizations because they are either too steeped in their culture or not agile enough to begin the paradigm shift that allows for performance-based management which completely changes the equation.  Plus, this nasty recession threw a monkey wrench into things just as we were starting to figure it out.

All this being said, I want to hear from you.  Please share with me what you, as an employee, are experiencing or what you are doing as a leader or work/life practitioner.  The more we can listen to and study both sides of the equation, the more equipped we will be to make the shift and prepare the workforce and the leadership for the workplace of the future.  Feel free to post here or send me an email at tammypalazzo@gmail.com.  Looking forward to hearing your comments!