In last week’s blog I mentioned that the UK’s Equal Pay Act is fifty this year. While things have improved for women over the past half century there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. Specifically many workplaces continue with deeply embedded practices biased against all but those considered ‘ideal workers’. Outmoded ways of thinking continue to create career barriers. For women in particular the challenge is one of trying to adapt to workplaces designed ‘by men for men’. Across the globe women carry out three times as much unpaid domestic and caring work as men. Organisations, on the other hand, continue to operate on the notion that employees are unencumbered by outside responsibilities; or at least that work is always the priority.
This outmoded thinking manifests itself in a myriad of ways: a lack of access to flexible working truly designed to provide a balance between home and work; the increasing creep of work into non-work time as technology creates an #AlwaysOn culture; the assumption that senior roles can only be carried out successfully by one person working long hours; and so on. In the face of this ‘glass labyrinth’ it’s easy to become frustrated and wonder if things will ever be any different.
In my book I write about the power of Appreciative Inquiry to bring about change. When we use this approach (which is grounded in positive psychology) we start to ask questions about what’s going on in the organisation. It focuses the attention and has the power to initiate a change process.
I’m a great fan of questions as a tool for changing thinking.
When we challenge someone directly they might become defensive. But when we ask a question the mind is drawn towards finding an answer.
For example, a few years back I talked with a new mother who’d returned to work on reduced hours. As a senior manager, she was the only one of her colleagues working a non-standard arrangement. Her biggest challenge was the expectation that she would attend off-site overnight meetings which clashed with her desire to see her young child. She could simply have pointed out that overnight meetings were now inconvenient. But that would go against cultural expectations and stereotype her as a woman more concerned with family than career. Asking questions such as: how could we organise this meeting so none of us need be away overnight? And: what would be the benefit to people of not having to spend that much time away from home? on the other hand, is likely to elicit a different response from colleagues.
Asking questions allows us to assert ourselves in a non-threatening way while shining a spotlight on outmoded working practices. We’re able to bring about more gradual change, often without anyone noticing. And the barriers getting in the way of women’s progress become slowly eroded.
This week, as we continue our #rebalance journey, what outmoded corporate practices or ways of thinking are getting in the way of you having both a career and good work-life balance? What question can you ask that will begin to shift the thinking of your workplace colleagues? What are you waiting for?