Inclusion as the lever for Balance for Better: International Women’s Day

d&i strategies Mar 18, 2019

This March, I have been actively participating in events to mark International Women’s Day/Week/Month and honour the theme of Balance for Better, by speaking, running Work Life Integration workshops or actively participating in some of the many great events held here in Switzerland.

Balance for Better is a theme that talks to all of us, irrelevant of gender - how can we better balance to thrive at home and at work, to thrive as a society and as an interconnected world?

This theme resonates for me personally, especially as one of the co-founders of Thriving Talent. The purpose of Thriving Talent is to help organisations create cultures where all employees can effectively balance work and life commitments, whether it is looking after children, ageing parents, pets, sport.

Our mission is to empower 1 million parents to be able to choose caring and career by end of 2020 and the quickest way to reach this is by working with organisations.

The question we are often asked is: what's the link between enabling caring and meeting gender equality targets?

Effectively integrating work and life commitments is a critical enabler to ensuring gender diversity in the workplace. Many companies are striving for greater diversity and inclusion in Switzerland, especially in leadership roles, because they are fully aware of the business and financial benefits it brings.

Last week, close to 100 CEOs and leaders in Switzerland have united with a pledge to foster gender equality and equal opportunities in the workplace.

I was delighted to be celebrating International Women's Day with Advance in Zurich, witnessing the commitments they had asked of their members. Many CEOs now recognise that to achieve gender equality, they need to look at how they empower employees to have a caring role outside of work.

It’s important to take a step back and look at what makes it difficult to have a caring role and a career here in Switzerland, where challenges are exasperated for the following reasons:

  • 25% of the population are expats and don't have the family and social network around them that typically makes it easier for professionals to balance family commitments. These professionals have parents who often live abroad - ageing parents who may also need more regular care and attention than before.
  • The historical culture of Switzerland is one which puts women at home taking care of the family and men are expected to be the main salary-earners. Many leaders have grown up with this mindset and may have biases around this. These may act as obstacles to women pursuing a career in leadership.
  • Paternity rights often do not exist and there is greater bias and judgement for fathers stepping into a caring roles, so all the responsibility typically rests on the women, much to the frustration of fathers.
  • Creche places are often hard to find and expensive - returning to work following maternity leave is not an easy transition. Women weigh up the costs, the stress and question whether it is worth it - the result is that on average 35% choose to not return to work.
  • School hours demand that one parent works flexible hours. If not, there is a need for both parents to organise logistics to find cover around the school timings.
  • Of the women who do stay, we often see an "invisible attrition" phenomenon. They opt out of potential promotion - either because their manager has a bias around mothers taking on leadership roles or the individual does not feel it is physically or mentally possible to increase responsibility at work because they have all the caring responsibility.

How can organisations make it easier?

#1 Take a pulse check - how inclusive is your culture?

Ask yourself:

How easy is it today to adopt flexible work approaches and be trusted to deliver results, rather than being visible in the office?

What are our general practices and behaviours that reflect a true sense of inclusion?

How are our employees and managers recognised for being inclusive?

#2 Invest in Smart Flexible Working

Make sure that there are many options to work smartly and encourage everyone to do so. Especially leaders. They need to walk the talk and show others that it's possible and that it does not equal career suicide.

In addition, take the time to redefine leadership roles so that they can be managed on reduced hours. This allows professionals to work flexible and have management responsibilities.

#3 Improve maternity and paternity policies

Adjust these to provide a greater length of a leave for both parents. Ideally they should allow parents working in the same company to share the parental leave. Actively encourage its take-up by both men and women.

#4 Support new parents

Support new parents with workshops, maternity and paternity coaching to help them transition to parenthood. These sessions help new parents learn the top tips to make it easier and to highlight choices, even when the only choice may seem that they need to give up working/leadership.

It’s also important to equip managers with the know how and tools. They need to understand their significant role in the retention and engagement of their team during life transitions and feel equipped and confident to support their employees.

Today many managers fear saying the wrong thing so they don't say anything at all. Leadership training is key if smart working and caring policies are to be bedded into the DNA of an organisation culture. If you are not sure how to get started, join the webinar organised by the LEAD Network.

#5 Invest in women

Invest in advancing women, so they dare to dream, have courageous conversations and honour their professional aspirations, without risk of overwhelm or burn out.

It sounds easy and it is - with patience, senior leadership team commitment and tenacity! It is a journey however - a cultural change programme with many quick wins on the way if you invest in them.

If you would like to learn the best practice and accelerate the impact on your employees and your culture, then please contact me so we can exchange: [email protected] 

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