Research published this week suggests the vast majority of parents and carers do not want a return to previous working patterns once lockdown is lifted. They are looking for more flexibility going forward. The pandemic has shown us both the possibilities for new and improved working practices and the risks if employers fail to adopt these.
On closer reading it turns out it’s predominantly mothers in senior roles who want more flexible working. Mothers have risen to the challenge of combining caring with working from home. Those in junior roles are likely to find it easier to renegotiate flexibility for the future. Senior roles still present more of a challenge as prevailing workplace cultures get in the way.
For women in that senior group (or planning to move into it) I offer three suggestions for navigating the tricky combination of working flexibly while continuing to climb the career ladder.
- Clarify your ‘why’
If you’re juggling caring with a demanding career I’m guessing it’s because deep down you know you have so much to offer a world in chaos; and a desire to make your biggest contribution. Now more than ever the corporate world needs women in senior positions. Women have different life experiences and often adopt a more inclusive perspective when tackling problems; as Caroline Criado Perez demonstrates so eloquently.
Get very clear on the skills you offer and the bigger contribution you yearn to make. I’m not simply talking about the technical skills that make up your professional qualification or the jobs on your CV. I’m talking about the unique perspective you can bring to issues going forward as the world works to create more inclusive and more environmentally responsible economies. When you’re clear on what you contribute others are more likely to see your value.
- Avoid making it personal
Asking for a more flexible arrangement in a senior role is, in one sense, all about you and your needs. But on a bigger scale it’s also about pioneering new ways of working that enable better work-life balance for everyone. It’s about moving to working practices that create gender balanced organisations. Practices that have a broader benefit for working women; as well as for the generations to come. All change starts somewhere with someone. So, as the saying goes: be the change you want to see. Taking action towards a goal that’s bigger than your own needs makes it more compelling for others to buy into your plans.
- Safeguard your reputation
Just because it’s not all about you that doesn’t mean you should neglect your reputation. Working a non-standard arrangement at senior levels brings challenges. Make sure the outputs expected of you are realistic. Make sure people know about the contribution you are making, even though at times you may feel invisible. Become a loud and proud role model. In my experience woman are hungry for pioneers to show them the way.
Find a senior manager to be your mentor. And engage in some reverse mentoring too so that he (and it will probably be a he) understands the benefits and possibilities inherent in your working arrangement.
Wednesday is National Upcycling Day in the UK; so this is a great moment to think about #Upcycling Your Job. First, strip out what’s no longer working, then upgrade the rest to make it fit our 21st century lives. This week I encourage you to be creative and to ruthlessly challenge outmoded working practices as we continue our efforts to #rebalance 2020.