The successful pursuit of gender equality in the workplace will bring benefits to men as well as women. In fact, promoting women without taking account of employees’ multiple identities can only take us so far.
Focus on inclusion
Many organisations are seeing the number of women in leadership positions flat-line or even decline after initial improvement. The research suggests that the failure to eradicate barriers to women’s progress—despite decades of investment and innovation—is in part explained by the unintended consequences of some diversity initiatives.
An emphasis on diversity instead of inclusion can create an environment where members of majority groups in organisations can feel that their opportunities to progress are being narrowed.
This can lead to an unwelcome and unhelpful backlash and even a negative workplace culture.
The promotion of flexible working is one of the most important tools an organisation can employ to improve the recruitment, retention and promotion of women. But to be effective, such policies must be extended as an option for everyone.
Where flexible working is framed as an option only for parents—or even just for mums—it can have the effect of creating a two-tier culture or a ‘mummy track’. This may result in more women remaining in employment after having children, but fail to help them progress to more senior positions.
Offering flexible working to all brings multiple benefits to organisations. These include greater staff loyalty and retention, a healthier, happier and more productive workforce, an increased supply of talent, and a more cooperative culture.
The language we use to discuss flexibility has changed. These days we acknowledge that a happy and productive workforce must balance the demands of employment with our other major preoccupation: being alive.
We rarely hear the term work/family balance in contemporary debate and instead speak of work/life balance. This is progress, but of course, work is still life.
In fact, work consumes the majority of our adult waking lives, and all employees perform better in the workplace if they are not suffering from disabling work stress or work/life balance conflict.
This is true of all human beings, no matter where they are situated in the organisational hierarchy.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review emphasised the benefits to organisations of CEOs carving out time for family, hobbies and sleep.
Family is of course a significant part of the balancing act for many, whether we have caring demands for young children or older relatives. Professional men are increasingly more involved in caring for loved ones. Family structures are shifting to include more single parents, blended families and same-sex parents.
Beyond the demands of family, finding time for other interests and pursuits – not to mention sleep – is essential to enhance creativity and wellbeing.
Creativity is key
As our economies change in response to the fourth industrial revolution, creativity will increase in importance.
Acknowledging and supporting the physical and mental health needs of the 21st-century workforce requires us all to think differently. How can the blending of work and home life be managed in a way that is not damaging to our health and productivity?
Recognising, respecting and accommodating employees’ commitments outside of the workplace will go a long way to addressing these issues. Responding positively to the desire of many employees for flexibility will allow organisations to recruit and retain not just more talented women, but men as well.
Professor Rosie Campbell is the Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and Professor of Politics at King’s College London.
This article is from the latest ‘Women, Diversity and the Path to Greater Inclusion’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson global magazine, OBSERVE.
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