Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member, Natalie Bickford. 

As the world is preparing for life post pandemic, organizations are preparing for the return to the workplace. While some are advocating for a wholesale return to five days in the office, and others are moving to fully remote flexibility, the majority are aiming for some form of hybrid working model. On average, companies are outlining policies requiring employees to be in their normal place of work two to three days per week, with the remainder of the time at a location of the employee's choice.

Eighteen months ago, we would have been heralding this as a major breakthrough in moving to an agile working environment, with a particular advantage being seen through the diversity lens of benefiting (in particular) women with caring responsibilities. And indeed, there is a lot to be said for allowing knowledge workers to have more control over where they spend their time. 

What we also knew, however, and what has arguably become even more visible during the Covid-19 crisis, is that women take on the significant majority of family and household responsibilities. While there has been much progress in the equality of women in the workplace, this is not necessarily the case at home. I personally saw this in 2020, where a disproportionate number of women in my previous workplace opted to be furloughed because of the pressures of home schooling, whereas their male colleagues continued to work full time, albeit remotely. 

As employees prepare to return, there is arguably a significant risk that men and women's attendance at the physical workplace will be unbalanced, with many more women choosing to work remotely than their male counterparts.  Why should we care about that? Hasn't lack of flexible work arrangements for women at certain points of their careers been seen as the greatest barrier to female progression? 

My supposition is that by working more remotely than men, women will fall behind on promotion opportunities, and if anything, the pay gap will start to widen further. While it is certain that some attitudes towards physical presence will have started to evolve as a result of the last 18 months, even Covid-19 will not have been able to over-turn some 70 years of embedded work culture. 

Being physically present, observing long hours, working the water cooler politics, and being available for a quick coffee or a drink after work, have long been the underpinnings of career progression. Being there gets you noticed, and however diligent your output is from home, dependability and conscientiousness allow you to keep your job, rather than necessarily creating opportunities for promotion. 

So what can we do to reduce the potential risk around growing gender inequality in the workplace? The first place to look is at home. Dual career families should take this opportunity to reset the division of labor. Arguably for the first time, men and women will have the same opportunity to work flexibly, and now would be a good moment to divvy up caring and home responsibilities in a more balanced way. 

Business leaders and managers also have a key role to play. Company policy is one thing, but company culture is quite another. If male and female leaders role-model modern agile working practices, then managers and team leaders will follow suit. If they work away from the office for a couple of days per week, and speak of the positive benefits, then it will become an accepted norm, thus encouraging more male employees to take the same opportunity. 

If we can get this new work agility right, and at the same time rebalance the caring responsibilities for the family, then we might just be able to super-charge our progress in workplace gender equality. If we get it wrong, we might just set ourselves back another 20 years. 

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Alexandra Levit.

I recently chatted with my friend and colleague Laurie Ruettimann, who has spent decades as a human resources and workforce thought leader and has brought her wisdom and candor to the new book Betting on You: Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career.

Alexandra: In the book, you talk a lot about advocating for yourself and your career. Why is this critical, and what's the #1 mistake you see people make as they proceed in their careers?

Laurie: When I was new to Corporate America, I thought the purpose of work was to show up, dazzle my bosses with excellent skills, and get paid a lot of money for my efforts. It didn't take long to learn that work is all about solving problems. If you solve complex challenges, you ascend the career ladder faster and earn more money.

Because I had student debt to pay, I threw myself into my job. I learned the hard way that peak performance requires a commitment to continuous learning, relentless focus on well”being, and the self”confidence to take risks with your professional life. Nobody can do anything remarkable at work if they are mentally and physically exhausted and afraid to jeopardize their paychecks.

What makes career pivoting challenging in the 21st century? What are some of the greatest opportunities?

We are living in a time of economic insecurity, and I'm not just talking about COVID”19. First, most traditional careers still make you start from the bottom. So, if you want to move from a role in human resources to nursing, you essentially have to start over with your education and certifications. Sure, there are accelerated programs available in some industries. But a pivot is often time”intensive and expensive. If you have family or financial obligations, it's an unrealistic burden to bear. Also, automation and digitization are rapidly transforming specific sectors of our economy. It's hard to pivot when the future is so uncertain.

The good news is that we're living in the golden age of learning. You can attend the "University of the Internet" and research the heck out of your desired career path. It's also possible to take free online courses or connect with industry thought leaders on various social media platforms before investing your time and money. With a bit of time and energy, the future can be less risky for those thinking about making a career move.

Do women still have it much tougher in the business world? What are things career”driven women can do to even the playing field?

Yes, it's more challenging to be a woman in business. What's more frustrating is that we've been talking about equal pay for equal work for a long time. I'm not sure career”driven women can level the playing field, nor is it their responsibility. This effort falls squarely on the shoulders of HR. I'm thrilled that total rewards technology is finally getting its time in the spotlight. Using artificial intelligence and integrating machine learning into a robust HCM suite, it's now possible to analyze the entire employee lifecycle and glean insights on the employee experience in a new way.

For example, we no longer have to wait for someone to submit an annual employee survey and tell us that they're disengaged and upset by discrimination, pay inequality, bias, or lack of belonging. We can see employee data in real time, compare it to overall trends, and address those concerns proactively. And we no longer have to wait for anybody, man or woman, to tell us that they're not earning enough or progressing fast enough in their careers. HR can know about an employee's obstacles and barriers before they even know themselves – and we can fix it. How cool is that?

How can HR reps and managers better support people in their professional development goals?

For so long, professional development was a company”driven endeavor focused on training workers to improve their current roles. If a manager was progressive, maybe he threw in some classes to help an employee get a promotion.

Thankfully, HR and managers have slowly accepted the radical idea that investing in a worker's future career path means greater productivity today. That's because the happiest and most engaged employees are learning, growing, and thriving.

No job is forever. Workers won't stay with your company for their entire careers. But they'll do a better job today if you create a learning plan that focuses on the future regardless of where they might be employed.

A BIG thank you to Laurie for sharing her thoughts with me. Whether you want to get ahead yourself, or help others get ahead in the most effective way, Laurie can help. Check out Betting on You and her other career resources on her website.

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member, Mark Wales. Here he discusses the career ladder problem of the broken rung.

The annual Women in the Workplace study conducted by and the consulting firm McKinsey & Company was recently released. This study - comprised of 329 companies that employ 13 million people - brands itself as the largest analysis of the state of women in corporate America and provides a deep dive into their experiences in the workforce as the fight for gender parity continues.

One of the more interesting findings of this year's study is that, contrary to the popular narrative, it is not the “glass ceiling” that is keeping women from the top, but a "broken rung" much lower down on the corporate ladder. The report finds that when women miss out on that first promotion into management, they then play a game of catch up with fewer and fewer women competing for each subsequent elevated position. In fact, for every 100 men promoted and hired to management, only 72 women are. As a result, men end up holding 62% of manager positions, with women holding just 38%.

The Milgard School of Business, part of the University of Washington Tacoma, has an interesting new program to try to help solve this problem. The Milgard Women's Initiative (MWI) mentorship program harnesses the power of experienced executives to help students prepare for the challenges of the workplace. The mission of the MWI is to advocate for all women and, in collaboration with people around the world, to engage women as creative and innovative leaders throughout their organizations and communities. The mentorship program is an opportunity for students to partner with a senior professional in the local community to share experience and wisdom. The mentorship program features group networking sessions as well as monthly one-on-one meetings. A curriculum of suggested readings and discussion prompts is provided to the participants, giving them three themes to work through during the academic year. The themes are leading through influence, communication differences between men and women, and giving and receiving feedback.

This program is a great example of not just how aspiring students can help themselves, but also a concrete way for current or retired executives to provide support for future generations of industry leadership. If we look back on our careers we all recognize people who - whether formally or informally - gave us support, guidance and coaching. We wouldn't have achieved many of our successes without those insights and practical help.

I would recommend that we all consider how we can help aspiring young managers. It may be within your own organization or, as with the Milgard School of Business, though a local educational or non-profit organization.

Did a mentor make a difference in your career? Tell us about it in the comments section.

The following post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos.

I recently discussed the thorny issues of workplace gender equity with my colleague and Workforce Institute board member Natalie Bickford. Natalie is the Group Human Resources Director at Merlin Entertainments PLC and she has more than 20 years of HR experience, with companies like Barclays, Kingfisher, AstraZeneca, and Sodexo. Natalie is also a thought leader in diversity and inclusion and has won several awards for her contributions to gender diversity in the UK, including recognition as a diversity champion by the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, and the Working Mums Champion Award in 2012. She was also the chair of Women 1st, an organization that promotes the role of women within the industry. In addition to all this, Natalie was recently recognized as one of the most influential HR practitioners in the UK.

While over a century has passed since the beginning of the women's suffrage movement, we still have a way to go to achieve true equity in the workplace.  Statistics abound regarding the stubbornly persistent pay gaps between men and women.  The rise of the #MeToo movement makes it clear that beyond pay, women continue to be confronted by harassment in the workplace based on their gender.  With this in mind, I recorded a podcast interview with Natalie to address these and other questions:

  1. Most people agree that increasing diversity at all levels of an organization is critical for success, so why do you think progress has been so slow and what do you think employers need to do differently?
  2. What were the most interesting insights you gained as chair of Women 1st?
  3. In 2018, UK legislation came into force, requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish gender pay information, publicly on their websites. What difference - if any - do you think this has made?
  4. A lot of high profile male leaders have been toppled this year due to allegations of sexual harassment of subordinates. What do you think it's going to take to eliminate this behavior in the workplace? And how do you embolden women to speak up when it's happening?
  5. There has been a lot written about what women need to do better in their own careers: speak up, negotiate for pay, take credit for work done, etc. - skills that come more naturally to men and are generally perceived more positively when done by men. What do you think about this advice and what advice would you give to a young woman starting her career?

You can listen to our conversation here:

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