This week’s blog post is inspired by a research article I’ve just been reading. The research was focused on the continuing barriers to women’s progression viewed through the experiences of those who started their careers in the 1970s and 1980s. Entering workplaces where career progression was dictated by masculine norms they spoke with masculine language. As a consequence they found themselves unable to verbalise alternative pathways to career success.
The article resonated with me since I started my own HR career at that time. And in my experience both women and employers are still struggling with making alternative career pathways a reality. While the situation is slowly improving, the lack of role models, enduring masculine career structures and women’s own feelings about what they can expect tend to get in the way.
Too often women look at the career pathways on offer and struggle to see how they can fit into these while also taking on responsibilities at home. They become disillusioned and they move themselves into ‘mommy track’ jobs or leave; seeking a compromise in mumpreneurship.
The reality is that unless we all speak up the situation will not change. The history of women’s progress at work has been one of speaking up. It was women who spoke up to ask for flexible arrangements such as job-share; offering it as a viable alternative for keeping a foot on the career ladder. So if we’re not satisfied with the way things are working for us, it’s important that we keep on speaking up. Otherwise we let employers off the hook. They can claim it was a personal choice and “there’s no problem here”.
How to speak up
- First of all get very clear on the working arrangement you need; and how it will benefit both you and your employer. The prevailing myth continues that senior roles must be worked full-time and preferably at the office. But there’s also growing evidence that senior roles can often be worked successfully on less than full time hours. And that doing so offers other team members room for growth and development.
- Look around for role models in your organisation, your sector or more widely in your profession. Pointing to someone who’s already successfully working the arrangement you want is a powerful endorsement of your request. It’s proof that alternative career pathways can succeed.
- If you’re part of a women’s network find out whether other members face the same challenges. Get together and discuss how you might collectively influence your employer(s) to offer suitable alternatives.
- Take a leaf out of my client Laura’s book and tackle your HR department. In her case she set about persuading them to establish a job-share register since her workplace was big enough for it to be viable. If your workplace is smaller a more appropriate conversation might be about how to offer senior roles on less than full time hours.
Above all, remember change is a negotiation that takes time. Many years ago I asked a colleague who’d recently succeeded in getting approval for a support programme for new fathers how he’d done it. He told me: “it’s the dripping tap effect. Say it often enough to enough people and things begin to register.” That organisation is now a world leader in parental support. While he cannot claim all the credit his voice contributed to the overall improvements.
You can do the same; and become part of the force that will eventually change working practices in your workplace or sector. So that future generations of women are able to access career pathways that support work-life balance.