YAHOO! WE ALL GET TO WORK IN THE OFFICE!


1950s officeI’m so throughly disappointed and disheartened reading the news about Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer’s new policy forcing all employees to be present in the office.  If you haven’t already seen the story, Mayer, in the spirit of collaboration and, in order to increase effectiveness, has mandated that all employees who currently work in a remote capacity return to the office.

Huh?  It’s 2013.  I thought we had long since moved past the discussion about the need to be present in the office (for most employees) and were actually looking at strategies to create more flexibility for a multitude of reasons including cost-effectiveness for the corporation, improved productivity for the employee and, most importantly, increased retention.  Win-win all the way around.  At a time when more and more companies are looking at innovative ways to distribute the workforce and create better opportunities for attracting top talent, achieving strong results and creating a culture that recognizes and respects the need for some type of work/life integration, it is seemingly absurd that Yahoo’s new CEO is taking a 180 degree turn and returning to an archaic workplace style.

Every bit of research that has surfaced in the last several years has indicated that more flexibility is not just a perk but, in fact, a requirement in order to take your business to the next level.  Millennials and boomers – the largest populations currently in the workforce – are demanding it.  Boomers are not willingly fading off into the sunset like many of their predecessors did.  Longer life expectancy and weak retirement accounts have contributed to the need and opportunity to have this enormous wealth of talent and knowledge hang around a little bit longer.  The ability to transfer knowledge to the incoming workforce – who also have their own ideas about how work should happen – is invaluable.  Rather than gold watches and retirement parties, organizations have the good fortune of creating new work solutions for these vital contributors to allow them to begin to reclaim their lives a little bit and still play an important role in helping push business forward.  Millennials have made their voices heard.  Many choose flexibility over cash and most will tell you that they will stick around longer if they have the ability to abandon the 9 to 5 construct.  They want the opportunity to work whenever, wherever, however – as long as they are producing results.  And companies are jumping all over this as they are finally figuring out that results-driven management is the true path to success.  No one has been able to prove that being present increases productivity, innovation or results.  However, happy and fulfilled employees always proves to yield better results.

Mayer joined Yahoo last summer while five months pregnant.  Any other Generation Xers like me will tell you that the notion of a woman being selected to run an Internet giant four months before giving birth to her first child is outlandish.  It is noteworthy enough that a 37-year-old woman would be tapped for such a role but, the fact that she was also about to become a mother, made the decision and appointment groundbreaking.  And, for those of us who rally every day to create a world where women can have such opportunities, the announcement from Yahoo allowed us to give a collective cheer and imagine, if only briefly, about the seismic shift that might have just occurred.  But then Mayer chose to take a 2-week maternity leave.  OK, she is a new CEO and probably could pull off getting back to work with the help of caregivers and a good flexible schedule.  She was about to become our flexibility icon!  And then, only months after returning to work, Mayer, with a straight face and clearly a lot of conviction, announced that flexibility was no longer on the table at Yahoo.

If Mayer were the newly appointed CEO of a large financial services firm or even an old, stodgy law firm, I could almost appreciate the culture that she was working in and acknowledge the pressure she might be under.  However, Mayer is at the helm of an innovative, young technology firm, headquartered in a town where flexibility is ingrained in the culture.  Granted, Silicon Valley is riddled with campuses that try to lure employees into never leaving the office with endless arrays of concierge services and free gourmet food.  However, these companies also outfit their employees with the latest technology to enable them to be truly mobile, ensuring that nothing will stand in the way of productivity.  In this environment, the notion of insisting that, in order to “become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side”, is absurd.

There is no argument that there is tremendous value in human interaction rather than ongoing virtual connections.  When teams come together and work alongside one another, they produce great results.  However, we must balance this with the importance of individual work time, broad-ranging work styles (not everyone is an extrovert) and the need to be able to juggle all the various aspects of your life.  The availability of technology today allows for work to happen in ways that would have never been possible even 20 years ago and affords us the benefit of being more innovative in our thinking about how work happens.  If Mayer was really looking to create more innovation within her workplace then the decision should have been to empower managers to develop strategies within their teams to create dynamic work environments that accommodated the various needs and styles of the team members.  If Yahoo employees were taking advantage of flexibility and not being productive, this should have been addressed on an individual basis.  A wholesale move away from flexibility and remote work is not the answer here.

For the past decade, a big part of my work has been focused on helping companies make the shift to more agile work where employees and managers can learn how to better communicate, be more effective and shift the workplace dynamics.  I am sure Marissa Mayer believes that her new approach is the right strategy for Yahoo’s 14,000 employees located all over the globe but, given the inertia resulting from the shift towards more flexible workplaces, it is a giant step backwards.  A step that will, undoubtedly, be watched closely and, probably be used as the case study for why flexibility and workplace agility is so critical in the new era of work.  The war for talent is alive and well – especially in the high-tech sector – and employees at Yahoo will show their displeasure with this controversial move by talking with their feet.  Undoubtedly, productivity will fall and attrition rates will rise.  If the days of workplace flexibility are ancient history for Yahoo then the days of replying to emails on nights and weekends and being “on” all the time – a tradeoff for that freedom – is sure to become a thing of the past as well.

It’s an unfortunate moment in time for the movement towards more agile and dynamic workplaces but, without a doubt, it is a moment that will leave an indelible mark on the future of work.

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!

MUSINGS FROM A DAY AT DMV


It probably comes as no surprise that I spend a significant portion of my day analyzing and reflecting on things in my life.  It is simply how my brain works.  Things just don’t slip through without careful examination.  I can barely get myself dressed in the morning without weighing the options on each garment.  Has my client seen me wear this jacket recently?  Will I be able to wear 3-inch heels and not fall and break a hip by the end of my day in the city?  Does this shade of black seem a bit lighter than that shade of black.  Yep, it is intense.

Yesterday, as I sat for hours in a less-than-desirable DMV office in a less-than-desirable part of NJ, I had lots of time for analysis and reflection, particularly the reasons why I had to end up in the less-than-desirable DMV office rather than the a little-bit-less-than-desirable DMV office closer to my home.  It had something to do with letting my license expire, some unpaid parking tickets and a lack of analysis and reflection on important papers that go unnoticed when they arrive in the mail.  But, rather than focus on my own foibles, I used this opportunity to think about how the experience at DMV could be better for both the employees that spend so much of their lives there and the patrons who view a trip to the DMV as a gateway into hell.

I put on my workplace consultant hat and thought about what the employee experience is for the typical DMV worker.  They start their days entering through doors covered in bars and manned by county police officers.  When they have the occasion to look out the windows at the lifeless streets and drab parking lot, they have to also stare out through bars.  It definitely gives the impression that you are imprisoned which, as any DMV patron can attest, is exactly what it feels like when you are being shuffled from one line to the next, to the next with no sense of what indignity you’ll be facing next.  Their offices have not been updated in decades and, in and age where we have more technology than we know what to do with, they have handwritten signs posted all around and have photocopies of photocopies that probably started on a mimeograph machine and you can barely make out the words.  To add to the ambience, rather than some unpleasant muzak playing in the background, there is a cacophony of workers yelling the names of waiting guests (that is how Target refers to their customers so I am going to pretend DMV values theirs in the same way) mixed with the low murmurs of patrons cursing about how long it is taking to get their necessary business handled.  (I wonder if the Muzak people have a service for that background noise).

Some – well, most – would suggest that anyone who is crazy enough to take a job at DMV deserves what they get.  The office staff is generally comprised of under-educated civil servants who make barely more than minimum wage (although they have killer benefits, which is nice) and they tend to be a disengaged and disgruntled 99% of the time.  I recently read a post by a woman who was telling of her son’s trip to DMV for his road test and she referred to the workers as “lazy and stupid who don’t give a frig about serving the public.”  I’m not sure if I completely support that sentiment but I will concede that it is easy to draw that conclusion given the experience most have when they are forced to make any type of visit to the office.  No one ever meets you for a drink at the end of the day to tell you about the amazing experience they had at DMV.  “Today they served champagne and chocolates.  I didn’t want to leave!”  Not quite.  However, I would suggest that perhaps we might be looking at the question of the chicken or the egg.  Does the culture of the DMV exist independent of the employees or do the employees create the culture.  If you read any articles written about how the government treats DMV workers and the significant cutbacks being made to the agencies which creates longer lines and, no doubt, more frustration on both the part of the workers and the public, you might consider that working at the DMV might cause a normally lovely person to turn into a hardened, miserable one.

I was watching one particular woman who seemed perfectly “normal” to me.  She was fairly well-dressed and, unlike some of her colleagues, was not chomping on her gum as if she was trying to use her teeth to crack open a walnut.  When I glanced over at her, hoping that my name was the next out of her mouth, she was rifling through a stack of papers as if she was looking for one in particular.  I couldn’t help but wonder if she was actually in search of some poor individual’s paperwork or if, rather, she was just shuffling the papers to avoid calling anyone’s name and let the clock tick forward a few minutes closer to closing time.  I gave her the benefit of the doubt because I believe the best in people.  Minutes later she was helping a gentleman who clearly was missing one of the points for the 6-point identification process (yep, I got the lingo down…that is how I roll).  You could tell that he was pleading with her to help him out so he would not have to return home to find a piece of mail to prove his address and continue on in his nightmarish journey.  I wondered if she simply did not care or if she was just following the stringent rules set by the powers that be that suggest “we make absolutely no exceptions whatsoever because we simply cannot trust the general public because everyone is really a criminal who is trying to get one over on us.”  Now, given some of the shady folks that were walking around the office today, I am not sure I entirely disagree with that line of thinking.  There were quite a few people that looked like they had some secrets tucked away in their very baggy jeans (perhaps that is what was weighing them down so they could not quite stay up on their waists).  I watched as this man pleaded and observed the body language of the DMV worker as she shook her head at him.  He was searching through his manilla envelope (did everyone else get the memo that you are supposed to bring a letter sized manilla envelope with your paperwork to the DMV?  I seemed to be the only one who simply tucked my stuff into my purse) to find the required paper and, each second that went by without him locating it, his shoulders slumped deeper.  He knew what was before him – go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200 – and was dreaded starting over.  I am certain that I observed a glimpse of sympathy in the woman’s eyes as she confirmed his fate.  I felt bad for the man and wished they could make an exception (although was still bitter about the fact that I took the very same path the day before when I arrived without a piece of mail) but recognize that, in a culture, such as this, exceptions are out of the questions.  It would create mass hysteria.  My attention on this exchange was interrupted by the large African American woman sitting several seats down from me who was providing us with the enjoyment of her ongoing commentary of what was going down in Room 3.  At this moment, she offered some commentary on how that poor fool is going to have to take his ass home and come back tomorrow.  This was followed up by a long string of whining about how much she needed to go out and have a cigarette and, if they do not call her name soon, she is going to need to pop someone.  Good times!

My name finally did get called and I had the pleasure of having my picture taken which resulted in a photo that looked like I had seventeen chins (I though I had lost just a few of those already) and taking a vision test through some type of view master viewfinder device from when we were kids.  I did stumble before I was able to leave and, once again, had the opportunity to evaluate the culture of the agency.  Was the woman who was helping me (the fourth individual I had come into contact in my three hours at the office) going to go the extra mile or would she happily send me on my way to resolve the inane confusion related to my married vs maiden name?  Would she go out on a limb for me and actually read my marriage license to see that both names are represented?  “It doesn’t have a raised seal, I don’t know if they are going to accept it.”  That right there? That is the transference of blame to some nameless, faceless individual.  That has got to be part of the training.  Much to my surprise and delight, they did accept it and I was released from the holding cell.  Perhaps there are some renegades who want to feel good about helping others and putting in a good day’s work.  Maybe, just maybe, there are people who work at DMV that want to shift that culture to one that it inclusive and inspiring, moving from what feels like a hostile work environment to a place where people look forward to going to work.  Well, that might be a stretch but I will hold out hope.  You can say one thing for the employees at the DMV, they can certainly bring their true, authentic selves to work, and that’s something.

My journey this go round is not completely done and I get to go back one last time to fix my problems that I neglected, ignored and failed to analyze but, for now, I am done and for that, I am grateful!

 

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!