For decades, working women have been caught in a perfect storm: a significant wage gap, limited and expensive child care options, and the need for more flexible work hours to deal with their lives outside of work. That's why historically many women have decided to opt out of the unsustainable and unfulfilling work grind instead of taking Sheryl Sandberg's advice to Lean In to their careers.
Today, the picture looks less black and white. With technology that now allows teams to work collaboratively and efficiently from anywhere (hello Zoom and Slack), the popularity of the on-demand economy and a pandemic that has forced even the most old-school industries to allow people to work from home, suddenly the idea that you have to be at the office to be productive feels almost archaic.
These developments have shown businesses that there is a way for women to off ramp from a full-time, in-office career to a full-time flexible career that allows them the time they need to balance work life with life life. When viewed through that lens, this is a pretty exciting time to be a working woman.
So, how can women make this transition in a way that removes some of the obstacles to professional success? Women@Work contributor Audrey D. Brashich spoke to Gina Hadley, co-founder of The Second Shift, which connects mid-career women with employers offering remote and project-based positions, to learn more about her assertion that flexibility is the future of work, and the key to keeping women engaged in the workforce.
For a while now, the traditional workplace hasn't been working for women. What's wrong with it — and can it be fixed?
If you take a close look at the archetype of the traditional workplace, it undeniably has functioned best for exactly one segment of the workforce: straight, white men who can make the arbitrary schedule of Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., work for them because someone else in their lives takes cares of all the non-work details. Folks who historically have not fit into this archetype have always had to do more to be successful and keep things together.
Are things changing?
They definitely are. There's been a real reckoning regarding who sets the rules, who the rules work for, and even what it means to be a good employee.
In fact, in many ways, the pause on going into the office brought about by the pandemic has revealed that while there are amazing things about being onsite, we can successfully collaborate from remote locations, and different working styles don't make an employee an outlier or a burden but rather simply a team member with different habits or requirements for being successful.
And that's good for women?
It's great for women because there's a new understanding that there are many ways to be an employee, which will allow more women to remain on the career track than ever before.
There's also an emerging respect for freelancers and people that work in the gig economy. It used to be that longevity was celebrated, but now you can be an expert who goes from a project at Google to Microsoft to Facebook and then Airbnb. Sort of like a ninja who goes from town to town, fighting against the samurai that you've been hired to fight and then moving on to the next place that needs you after the battle has been won. Plus, talent managers are increasingly budgeting for and hiring on a per-project basis. It's become part of their overall talent strategy.
Another thing that benefits women is that remote and project-based work allows for more geographical — and therefore economic — diversity. Being onsite is often no longer a requirement, which means people who might not have been able to afford to relocate for work can still be part of a team or company. And flexibility benefits women.
What do you think the workplace is going to look like going forward?
Both employees and employers have been adding new skills and techniques to their toolboxes, and in the future, we'll probably see more bespoke workplaces, where companies allow hybrid situations instead of things being all remote or all onsite.
Ideally, we'll realize it's not useful for employees to commute into the office just to be seen answering emails and writing reports before going home again. The office will become more a space for collaboration.
Is there an ideal or guiding principle that you think is emerging as a North Star when it comes to workplace culture?
Empathy. The universe and 2020 have given us a primer in walking in someone else's shoes, and the most successful leaders and workplaces are going to be those who recognize that everyone has different circumstances.
And although it's women who require time off for childbearing and recovery, millennial and Generation Z men have shown that they don't want to miss out on family matters. So, there's a call for empathy on many fronts.
What do you want women to be thinking about as we go forward?
We need to all be working toward electing officials who understand working mothers and [who will] help create the structures and safeguards that will help us continue our careers.
Women also need to recognize their worth. 2020 has proven people can be successful remotely, so going forward, if you have circumstances that you'd like your employer to consider, such as working from home a few days per week, then you should ask for it. In the old workplace, it might have seemed like you were hoping for special treatment or favors. But now, it's really more of a request for working conditions that will allow you to deliver your best work. And how your employer responds might surprise you because the last thing employers want is for highly trained employees to drop out.
I also hope women who are in seats of power will be scrutinizing their organizations to find opportunities and methods that will make it easier for the women in their care to do good work.
Ladies, just because you can easily and efficiently perform an administrative task at the office doesn't mean you should. You might know where the best bagels in the neighborhood come from, and everyone might be expecting you to order them as usual for the upcoming meeting. But what if you let someone else use their brain power and time to figure it out for once?