Moving Beyond Balance

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This week I had the opportunity to join a panel discussion put on by Women Employed  about the state of balance in the workplace and the challenges women face meeting the demands of work and life. Women Employed www.womenemployed.com is a Chicago based not for profit foundation with a powerhouse board of directors and team focused on improving conditions for women to thrive in the workplace.

Moderated by Anne Ladky, Executive Director and Board Member of Women Employed, the conversation explored how we get beyond talking about “how tos” of balance and move to creating conditions for employees to thrive in the workplace and in their personal lives. While the panel discussed the harsh reality that we still don’t do enough for women in the workplace, I walked away inspired to think about how we as leaders invoke the conversation in our workplaces that we must do more.

This is a complex challenge. I know all too well as a business leader myself that remaining competitive is a number one priority to businesses in this economic environment. This task is so consuming that we oftentimes forget to continue the conversation of what we can do in the workplace to make it a better place to work for our employees. Human Resource Departments are facing double digit increases on their medical plans and pressures to find ways to reduce cost. Proposing more paid time off can be challenging, especially in environments where coverage is difficult to schedule.

I believe businesses and leadership teams don’t have all the answers. Women, oftentimes have the best and most creative ideas, but they struggle to propose them to their companies in fear that it will appear as though they will be shot down or viewed as if they can’t meet the commitments of their jobs. It’s hard enough to speak confidently about needing flex time or rescheduling a meeting because it’s too early in the morning, how will they change the way their companies operate?

Here’s how. Let’s open up the conversation at work. Leaders, let’s remind our employees that we need their ideas to make it a great workplace where working moms (and working parents) can thrive. Let’s treat this as a business problem, not a nice to have new benefit, because business problems get solved, but new benefits get put on hold when there’s pressure to hit numbers.

Human Resource Leaders, integrate work life balance needs into your strategy to attract and retain employees. Find best in class policies and practices from companies like yours to get ideas. Empower a committee of employees at your companies to come up with their recommendations in how we can accommodate work life balance needs. Take small steps that are not costly if the big steps can’t get approved yet and communicate the successes to the leadership team.

Women, let’s shift the conversation. Bring your recommendations to the workplace in how we can do things better. Your ideas matter. In this age of technology, our workdays are no longer 8-5, so stop feeling guilty about requesting adjustments to work schedules, or declining that 7:30 a.m. meeting because you are getting your kids ready for school. I would kindly remind you that men rarely give a reason why they can’t attend a meeting, so suggest a new time that works for you and move on to your next business issue.

Clearly, these are steps, not solutions, but it will take a lot of steps, effort and commitment from us all to get there. Thank you Women Employed and panelists, Iliana Mora, COO oat Erie Family Health Center and Women Employed Board member, Susan Lambert, University of Chicago Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune journalist and author of the column “I Just Work Here” for a thought provoking conversation in how we can do more to move beyond balance.

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