I read two interesting articles in The Economist over the holiday break - "We Did It" and "Womenomics". In some ways these articles covered some old ground; women are outpacing men in education and now in employment rates. There is even research to indicate that companies with more women in senior management positions are more profitable. Yet, women still make up a very small fraction of corporate and organizational leadership... it begs a lot of questions.
What the articles did address that I found more interesting is how societies are dealing with having women share equally in the working world. As it turns out - the U.S. is not dealing with the social implications of this very well at all. There are very few structural accommodations for all the things that women used to do when they stayed home: child care, elder care, food preparation, community management, house keeping, etc. Sure we can pay for all of those things but if families do, most will spend more than one person's salary to do so... so only the richest can afford to fully staff their personal/family needs. What happens instead? We do laundry at 11pm, we frantically reschedule business meetings when children get sick and can't go to daycare, we trust strangers with keys to our homes so they they are somewhat clean, we eat crap, and we are all very stressed. I don't think this is a women's issue any more. Most of the people in my generation are strung out. Looking at national demographic data we are also getting fatter, experiencing a rise in childhood mental issues, don't know our neighbors, and have faltering real-world community institutions...
I don't know about the rest of Gen X but I'm a little bothered by being hung out to dry and left to figure out how to deal with all of these issues for myself. My peers have handled this in a variety of ways:
- One person drops out of the workforce or significantly changes their career path when children arrive
- Many people stay single and bury themselves in jobs that take 50+ hours of their time (not sure if this is the chicken or the egg)
- Couples don't have children
- Couples limit themselves to one child because day-care and logistics are simply too hard to deal with otherwise
- Couples hire nannies and both have high powered jobs to support that
- Couples try to juggle two average jobs with daycare
- One parent typically finds a watered-down part-time position to try and keep one foot in the adult and working while spending some time with their children
- One member of the couple 'consults' and is left to a vagaries and loneliness of working alone.
- People are forced to put parents in nursing home or get 24-hour care because they can't live on their own but need someone around more than in the evenings
I know a few exceptional women who simply gave up interesting and challenging careers because they wanted a family but found the trade-offs too much to keep their careers. Rather than take a dreary part-time job that offered no intellectual challenge or take on the unstable world of part-time consulting, they gave up work entirely. Personally I worked at a management consulting firm in my 20s and I loved the colleagues and the job - and they were going to pay for me to go to business school in exchange for returning there to work. From a career perspective, what could be better? But I could not possibly see a future where I had to travel 4 days a week, every week. I had the opportunity to get into product management which has a less drastic lifestyle associated with it, so I choose that path. I don't regret that now - I learned a hell of a lot which is very handy now - but it definitely made my career bumpier.
Now I don't have children but my husband and I both work a lot and even without children I'm having a hard time juggling food shopping/cooking, laundry, cleaning, home maintenance, doctor's visits, caring for sick parents, etc. This situation frustrates me, makes me sad, and makes me think of all the amazing skills and experience that organizations are leaving on the table... simply because they cannot figure out how to create positions for people that don't look like what they always have.
For me this is a larger issue than figuring it out for myself - I can do that... it's annoying and I'll make some mistakes but I'll stumble along. However, this is an issue at the heart of being a 'social' organization. Being 'social' means accommodating variety - including a variety of employee needs. And it's not just because that is the right thing for the people who work in organizations - it's because people will give their right arm in commitment back to the organizations that give them interesting, challenging work to do in a structure that also allows them to have some semblance of personal sanity. I'm betting the commitment that results will drive profitability improvements.
There's a lot of talk about how 'social' is transforming customer support and 2010 is the age of customer service... I don't disagree but until employees feel like they have some stability and sanity, there is only so far they are going to go to serve the organization's customer.
What if organizations had a variety of positions at all levels (yes, executive too) - some of which were 20 hours a week, some 30, some 40, some 50, and some 60... it would not only allow people to decide how many hours they could work it would recognize those that now regularly spend over 40 hours a week working that are somehow just 'expected' to without necessarily getting commensurate recognition for doing so. What if there were campuses for large and small organizations that had centralized and at-cost day care and elder care? Some big companies do this today but it is very inconsistent; small & medium size companies only very sporadically offer these types of services. More often than not, companies rent office space in vast complexes interspersed with parking lots - without any additional services to be had. I bet however, it would be a real competitive differentiator to either offer services as a company or locate in a complex that has a day care, elder care, dry cleaner, gym, grocery store, etc. (office park developers... are you listening?!?) I know a company that offered me challenging work with flexibility and easy to use/economical services would keep me much longer than any of my other employers have.
If you are in the business of figuring out how to make your organization more social and you don't have this issue on your list of things to address... it's time to start thinking about it.