It’s no secret that women face many challenges in today’s workplaces, and those challenges are compounded when women become mothers.
In 2018, more than 70% of mothers with children under 18 participated in the labor force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But in addition to spending more time in the workforce, women are also more spending more time on childcare than ever before.
My company provides flexible, remote work for caregivers. Through this experience, I’ve heard many stories from hard-working parents, but one sticks out in particular: A new mother I spoke with was the vice president of a marketing agency. She felt that from the moment she announced her pregnancy, she was under a microscope.
After a short eight weeks of maternity leave followed by two weeks of part-time work, she returned to full-time work. Her company offered no flexibility for their employees, so she was often struggling with how to balance her role as vice president and as a mom. She was expected to be in the office from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., regardless of her life circumstances or job performance.
Unfortunately, I’ve found this type of story is not unique. In fact, nearly every working woman I’ve spoken with has her own story of workplace inequality. What is unique is the experience of each employee, male or female, married or single, parent or not. I believe the rigid, outdated workplace architecture does not encourage the success of today’s workforce.
The encouraging news is that we are seeing progress in companies embracing a more flexible work structure. However, there is still much work to be done. As Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient, said, “The rules were created by men for men over a hundred years ago when women weren’t really in the workplace.” But we are here now, and we are committed to working together to achieve equality.
Where To Start
In a perfect world, parents would be evaluated on the results they produce for their company, not the amount of time they are present and seen in the office. From my perspective, employers can encourage a healthy work-life balance by focusing on holding employees accountable for the results they produce rather than how many hours they sit at a desk.
But creating a flexible work environment is something that many companies are still resisting. I believe the main reason for this is fear — the fear of change or fear of losing control. If you are considering offering your employees some level of flexibility, consider these tips.
1. Start small. The great thing about flexibility is that it can be offered in so many ways. You don’t have to do it all at once. Pick one aspect of flexible work that feels comfortable for your business. What would benefit your employees and fit with your corporate culture? Try a “summer schedule” if you’re worried about how flexibility will impact your business. This will allow you to test the flexible waters for a defined time period. At the end of the summer, your team can assess the results and decide how to move forward. You can offer your employees a variety of options. Here are two that I have seen used with great success:
• Let your employees work from home one day each week for the summer months.
• Create a schedule where employees work one extra hour Monday through Thursday, and let them take every other Friday afternoon off.
2. Offer a compressed schedule. If your company remains focused on how many hours employees are present in a physical office, you can still implement flexible options by allowing your employees to work a compressed schedule. Extending their workday by two hours each day will allow them to work four days per week rather than five, without affecting the total number of hours worked in a week. Your company is still getting 40 hours of office time, and employees are enjoying an extra day off.
3. Provide job-share opportunities. Many employees, especially those with heavy caregiving responsibilities, would welcome the opportunity to share a position. This option allows two similarly skilled employees to share a single position for a time period, each working a portion of the week. Employees are staying engaged in the workforce and keeping their skills sharp, while the company is retaining valuable intellectual capital.
The best piece of advice I can offer you if you are considering implementing flexibility is to talk to your employees. Find out what would benefit them the most, and focus your efforts there. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and it’s possible that you won’t be able to satisfy the needs of each employee’s unique situation. But you will have a much higher degree of success and satisfaction if you know beforehand what your employees really want rather than making a decision in a vacuum.
The Bottom Line
Some companies are working to combat gender inequality in the workplace. My company, for example, is partnering with companies to offer women and caregivers a flexible employment option. We are already seeing that the newest generation of employees values flexibility and work-life balance over traditionally valued benefits such as compensation.
Companies must begin embracing a new workplace architecture — one that meets the need of our country’s diverse workforce — or risk losing talented, capable employees. An easy starting point is focusing on results rather than hours in the office.