Companies need women in management roles to stay competitive. A 2018 McKinsey survey found that companies with gender-diverse leadership teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to outperform on value creation.
Yet, in too many organizations, women managers are less likely to be promoted and more likely to leave mid-career. Almost 70% of highly-educated women who left their jobs said they would have stayed if their organizations offered more flexibility.
Flexibility and work-life balance are key to retaining women in management. While flexibility looks different at every business, this flexibility must be a two-way street between employees and employers. Here is how you can implement a flexible work strategy in your company.
Eliminate 9-to-5 workplace culture
Originally developed by American labor unions in the 1800s, the 9-to-5 mindset was fully adopted into the mainstream by Henry Ford in the 1920s as a means of increasing productivity of an unskilled, assembly-line workforce.
When thinking about the needs of companies focused on retaining college-educated employees in management, sound judgment and empirical evidence suggest it is time to rethink strategies due in part to our evolution from a manufacturing to a service-based economy.
When I reflect on the greatest frustration of my career in the investment advisory industry, it centers on schedule rigidity. The culture was all about “face time” in the office. It is still like that in many companies, where “presenteeism” saps morale and creativity, and managers equate productivity with employees seated at their desks working an equivalent 9-to-5 workday. There is a lack of flexibility and trust in environments focused on a traditional eight-hour workday that begins and ends at the same time for every person in the company.
We approach things differently at Weston Table. Our core belief that “a flexible work environment encourages employees to pursue a well-lived life and a healthy work-life balance” directly contributes to a superior work product, manager retention, and ultimately our ability to meet sales forecasts and year-over-year revenue growth projections.
It matters far less to our management team where and during what hours our people do their work, and far more that the work is done. Whether that work is done in our corporate office or at home is for each individual to decide, similar to whether they have a four-day work week or a five-day one. This type of flexibility builds trust and productivity while holding on to key managers, particularly women. At the end of the day, it is a win-win strategy for companies and managers.
Appreciate the importance of work-life balance
Most people work better with flexibility and autonomy, but women especially need it. In spite of all the gains in gender equality, most of the caregiving and family management responsibilities, such as household chores, eldercare, and child care, still fall to women.
An OECD study found women do an average of 242 minutes of unpaid work per day, compared with 148 minutes per day for men. Until the world balances the burden of unpaid work responsibilities more equally between men and women, work-life balance for women means providing an environment in which there is no retribution for the unpaid work women are often expected to do outside of the paid work environment.
Workplace flexibility allows all employees to manage their personal responsibilities without worrying about losing their jobs or fearing penalization from managers. It boosts loyalty, creativity, and productivity. Happy employees are 12% more productive than the average employee, making work-life balance a benefit for both employers and employees.
Lead by example
Employees can easily distinguish between what the employee handbook says and what actually happens inside the company. Company executives must embrace flexible work schedules and work-life balance initiatives first. If they lead, their management teams will follow.
Monday through Friday, I play competitive tennis. It helps keep me physically and mentally fit, and demonstrates my commitment to job flexibility.
My workday starts at 5:30 a.m., I leave at 8:30 a.m., and I return around 11 a.m. and work until I need to leave to be a parent. If I leave at 3 p.m one day, my team knows that I am always available via text or email, and they know they can count on me to work late if needed––but not at the expense of my family commitments.
Unfortunately, many women face career obstacles when they do likewise. Take a good look at how things really work in your company and ask hard questions:
- Is part-time work truly valued, or is it an off-ramp from the promotion track?
- Do managers embrace flexibility and diversity, or is it all PR?
- Are men given the side-eye when they take paternity leave?
- Are chances for raises and promotions determined by “face time”?
These are important questions to answer honestly. The responses affect your success in attracting and keeping key members of management, particularly women.
Reap the benefits of a flexible work strategy
Plenty of companies have found that a “less but better” philosophy can boost performance:
- Microsoft Japan tested a four-day workweek and boosted productivity by 40%.
- Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trust management company, tested a four-day week and realized a “20% gain in employee productivity and 45% increase in work-life balance.”
In 2015, 30% of workers surveyed said they would value a flexible schedule more than a pay raise. More women (82%) than men (76%) preferred more benefits/perks to a pay raise. In a tight labor market, new employers may offer both to top-quality job seekers. Companies with a reputation for inclusiveness, flexibility, and fairness are in a better position to recruit and retain top talent, especially women.
On average, it costs about a third of an employee’s annual salary to recruit and train a replacement. These numbers do not account for the lost productivity time for the entire team. It makes sense to do everything possible to encourage a healthy, happy, and productive workforce.
I have seen flexibility pay off personally and professionally for many people. It is not a theory; it is reality.
Dianne O’Connor is founder and CEO of Weston Table, a marketplace that emboldens people to live their best lives through conscious consumerism and inspired living. She is passionate about living, giving, and entertaining, as well as empowering her workforce to live their best lives. You can follow Weston Table on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.
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