As is fitting on Labour Day, I’d like to draw together some threads I’ve seen over the last week, all relating to work. They may not seem initially to be connected, but don’t worry – I’ll get there!!
The first came in the form of a post titled “Are Women Dissatisfied Enough?” on one of the Harvard Business Review blogs, written by Vineet Nayar. Mr. Nayar, a prominent global business leader, is concerned about the ongoing imbalance in the male/female ratio at the most senior levels in business. He wrote a post in which he essentially called for us “ladies” to step it up and get hungrier, indicating that our lack of dissatisfaction with the status quo is why it remains unchanged (and has, in fact, flatlined over the last few years).
The second was the continuing media interest in Social Media Group’s unlimited paid time off policy (a.k.a. “UPTO“). A few weeks ago, renewed curiosity landed us on the front page of the biggest paper in the country, followed by a feature on national television news. This after the initial flurry late last year when we first announced the program and saw coverage by Time Magazine Online, ABC News and a variety of other major media outlets across North America. Something about our policy (one shared by both Netflix and parts of IBM) obviously resonates with people, generating equal parts disbelief and resumes.
The third was a global study that came out last week that showed that 52% of North Americans had called in “sick” to work when they were not, at some point in the last year (an amazing 71% of Chinese workers had done so). In light of our approach to work at SMG, I was interviewed about the study (and our UPTO policy – again) on the national news.
And the fourth (yes, there is a fourth!) was this highly intelligent article by Mathew Ingram of GigaOm, asking whether structured work hours were, in fact, perhaps not something best done away with in a knowledge economy, and which also referenced SMG’s UPTO policy.
So – how people work and how happy they are about it seems to be a pretty hot topic, huh?
And here’s why I think the issue of under-representation of women at senior levels and our empowered approach to work come together. As I said in my comment on Vineet Nayar’s blog post (since voted up for by dozens of readers on the HBR blog, making it the most popular comment so far) I’m not so sure that the gender imbalance is actually the kind of problem we think it is. Men and women have equal intellectual potential and capacity to work hard. 51% of the population is female, and a corresponding number of women make up the average university/college population. So women have the capacity, skills and numbers to be wherever they want to be. And yet – they are not proportionally represented at the most senior levels.
You know what? I think the issue may, in fact, be that, individually, when push comes to shove, many women simply don’t want to be at senior levels, especially once they take a look at the sacrifices required, especially in environments where visible hours at work are somehow counted as indicators of skill, commitment and aptitude (as opposed to a lack of a balanced life, the inability to work efficiently and, frankly, sucking up).
In other words – most workplaces are doing it wrong. With an over-focus on process vs. results (“Did you stay later than anyone in your department last night?” vs. “That was one of the most creative solutions I have ever seen!”) they are alienating at least half of the population (if not more) – a population that is very economically mobile, has significant options when it comes to subsistence income and is one of the fastest-growing groups of entrepreneurs on earth.
So – is it you, or is it us? As 19th-century workforms meet 21st century reality, is the issue not perhaps a lack of opportunity, but rather changing expectations and expanding freedom to choose that account for inequality at the senior-most levels? Could it actually be that women are too smart to take those senior roles? Might it be that what corporate America is selling, women are not buying?
I would love to hear what you think!