We'd all love to feel as energized at work every day as the folks in this picture, right? It's a human craving to feel productive, challenged, and useful.
That said, I LOVE how on-trend women are these days, especially women-at-work. Just in the last week in New York, the range of women-related events and resources is staggering: I heard Anne-Marie Slaughter with Christine Quinn at Civic Hall; met dozens of amazing candidates for our re-entry program for womenat the sold-out iRelaunch conference; read McKinsey's joint report with LeanIn.Org on women at work; and am slightly heartbroken not to have fit theSHE Summit into my schedule today and tomorrow.
All of this thinking, discussion, and convening about women in the workplace is important. Many of us are so familiar with the horrifying numbers about women on boards, in the C suite, and on either side of an investment term sheet that we're probably somewhat numb to the gender inequity remaining in our economy. What's coming out louder and clearer now is the significant economic cost of this imbalance: that new McKinsey study identified $28 trillion of economic growth that would be unlocked by women's equal participation in the global economy.
The most commonly cited barrier to women's advancement at work is flexibility - we know there are other factors preventing women's upward mobility, but the ability to play a caregiver role during the traditional 9-5 (and increasingly, 8-8) workday is the biggest structural factor. But as Anne-Marie Slaughter and others have pointed out, this isn't a woman thing:
"It’s a work problem — the problem of an antiquated and broken system. When law firms and corporations lose talented women who reject lock-step career paths and question promotion systems that elevate quantity of hours worked over quality of the work itself, the problem is not with the women." Anne-Marie Slaughter
The women who are interested in our re-entry program to find flexible and fulfilling work have quickly been joined by men. Their stories - taking some time off to care for a parent or children; a sabbatical after a layoff or a payout; switching industries after decades of specialization - are by no means unique to women. And we know that millennials don't want to follow a traditional, linear career path determined by their face time hours spent in a cubicle.
There are (very good!) reasons to continue the thinking, discussion, and convening on the topic of women's unique experience and contribution in the workplace. (Indeed, we feel strongly about keeping our women-only program to allow for the peer support that develops. But we also run mixed gender programs, and are planning others, in response to the men who've asked us to!)
However, the larger conversation about reforming 'work' needs to be a universal one. All of us would be healthier, happier, AND more productive if given the freedom to take time for personal obligations - or hobbies and passion projects - when they need to happen, combined with a dedication to perform our professional roles to the highest standard. But we need to trust team members' ability and commitment to fulfill their responsibilities, and evaluate each other on results achieved, not compliance to superficial measures of performance like time in the office, or average speed of email responses.
Of course, to achieve that internal motivation and diligence, people need to be genuinely engaged by the larger purpose their efforts are working toward. So maybe the discussion we really need to have is one about meaningful work. And that's not a woman thing, it's universally human.