discussing the issues women face at work today

marie-noelle morency and jennifer hargreaves talk flexible work, parental leave, and other trends affecting working women and mothers

Randstad’s own Marie-Noëlle Morency recently sat down with Tellent founder and entrepreneur, Jennifer Hargreaves, to discuss some of the most pressing issues women are facing in their workplaces today. From their thoughts on why women seek out flexible work more than men, to their discussion about the merits of results-focused work, to whether they believe men and women should share parental leave, there are some great insights worth checking out.

women discuss workplace flexibility ROWE model, work-life balance

on why women seek out flexible work

Marie-Noëlle Morency: Do you think women feel that their current workplaces don’t offer enough opportunities for flexible work? Or that traditional corporate workplaces don’t offer enough flexibility?

Jennifer Hargreaves: What it comes down to is that opportunities for women in the workplace have evolved faster than our traditional societal expectations on gender. Ideally, we would see an evolution of both at similar speeds.

The traditional structure of work has not really evolved since the industrial era, but we want and expect more from women than ever before. We want them to work like they don’t have children and parent like they don’t work. More women are graduating from university and are entering the workforce at similar levels to men. However we're still not getting through to leadership and C-suite levels. 

We're expected to lead and succeed like men in the workplace but with societal expectations that come with more traditional gender roles. There's a definite disconnect here.  

We recently did a survey that showed 58% of working mothers are the primary caregiver, effectively doing two full-time roles with little or no support from their partners or employers. Flexibility at work helps them to manage that double burden but a culture of flexible work will help to reduce gender bias and discrimination and will ultimately lead to equity at work.

Looking at our survey data, only 2% of men are the primary caregiver, so you can imagine 98% of men have support in their home life and that allows them to go out and get into leadership positions. So we see this as a huge gap in what women can actually contribute to work and to the economy.

on whether work-life balance is an illusion

MNM: So you'll probably agree when I say, ‘work-life balance is an illusion’? Because we're trying very hard to handle the two, but realistically, it's not possible without having flexible arrangements or without having some kind of flexibility. It’s not true that you can perfectly balance the two and you’re going to be successful at both without having some kind of flexibility, correct?

JH: Well, you’ve opened up a can of worms here, Marie-Noëlle. Work life balance is defined in the eyes of the beholder. It's what you make it and what makes sense to you. I see so many articles and hear thought leaders talking about the idea of work life flow, work life balance, work life wisdom… most agreeing that is it not possible to have it all and to throw the idea of work life balance out the door.

I think that how you feel about your work and your family life comes down to how you feel about the decisions and choices you make every day and accepting responsibility for those choices.

It's my sincere belief that you have control over the decisions you make everyday. You can choose to work 9am5pm in a traditional office environment with an hour commute, you can choose to negotiate flexible work arrangements, or you can choose to quit your job to find more balance. All of these choices have consequences but if you accept responsibility for your choices and the subsequent consequences, it makes life easier and more enjoyable.

The key, in my opinion, is getting crystal clear on what you want your work life to look like and what is important. Then every decision becomes easier by asking yourself, is this in line with my goal or vision?

For example: mine is to be a present parent to my two children and to be an entrepreneur. Any decision I make in my day to day is aligned with that goal. If my childcare falls through or a child gets sick and I feel pulled or torn on what I should do, I go back to my goals and accept responsibility for my decision. I chose to be an entrepreneur because of the personal growth it would afford me and the flexibility it would give me to be with my children. It makes the decision and choice easy. If I start feeling that the company is not growing fast enough or I am not progressing at the same rate of my peers, I go back to my goal and to what it is that I really want. To be a present parent and an entrepreneur. I also remind myself that every day I have a choice. I can continue to do what I’m doing, or I can do something else. You always have a choice.

on the merits of results-based work models

MNM: Can you tell us a bit about how some organizations are looking into the ROWE model, which is a new approach that allows for more flexible arrangements. It’s based on results - it means Results Only Work Environment. How could this be a game-changer in the workplace?

JH: So, ROWE, as you said, stands for Results Only Work Environment. It’s a Human Resource Management strategy that was co-created by two women out of the US. Employees are paid for their results or their output rather than the number of hours they worked.

In Canada, there are a few companies that have adopted and gone through the training to become officially ROWE certified but other organizations are adopting their own versions of results-based work environments.

It is certainly a model that I use in my business and with more and more companies that I work with. The freelance business model is a great example for measuring outcomes. Freelancers often charge per project or outcome. With a focus on met, or unmet results, the company, or client, is less focused on the specifics of how that happens, which allows for a much for flexible work environment.

This focus on results is going to become even more important as access to desired talent and skills become more challenging.

on men sharing in childcare responsibilities

MNM: Another trend we’re seeing is men taking on more parental duties. They’re taking more weeks of parental leave. Is this something you see as well? That more dads are sharing parental leave with their partners? Which can really help women reduce the burden of thinking, ‘well I'm taking the full year and then I'm going to have to prove myself in my work again when I come back.’ So it’s helping in terms of equity to have men share more of the parental leave and become more familiar with what it is to raise and manage a baby. Do you see that trend?

JH: I do and it's something I'm super excited about. Yes, we are starting to see more and more companies start to implement parental leave policies including specific support for fathers. Personally, I’m seeing more men in the schoolyard and walking around carrying their children in front packs, which I think is amazing.

MNM: I truly believe this is another game changer and that we're moving in the right direction. Would you say you’re positive about where it’s going?

JH: I think it's a wonderful thing across so many levels. Fathers also want to take time off and it's not only good for their relationship with their kids and their spouses but it’s really going to help evolve more traditional gender roles and reduce biases in the workforce.

In a recent survey we did only 2% of working mothers had partners who were the primary caregivers. It’s as you alluded to, Marie-Noëlle, during mat leave, you’ve got 12 months or even 18 months where women learn to be the primary parent. 

Only 40% of working mothers successfully transition that load into a shared responsibility when they go back to work. I believe that increased access and uptake of paternity leave will see that number increase and allow more women to thrive at work and reduce the biases, conscious or not, that come with being a parent.

MNM: I totally agree. I'm experiencing that myself the second time around. It’s been useful in how my husband experiences parenthood. I’m looking forward to sharing the parental leave. I think it’s a great thing to see men take that time alone with their child and bonding in a different way. I think it’s very cool on many, many levels. So I’m really happy about that.

JH: And like you said, then they learn to be a working parent. So now both parents have experience being the primary caregiver and it's not just the mother who carries the double burden with work and caregiving. It’s both and it’s shared and I think it’s very exciting.

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