We all agree that we want women in senior roles. We recognise the need for equality and balance. We concur that women are capable. However I believe our focus has been on the wrong question.
Instead of asking why women aren’t in the top job, we should be asking whether women want the top job in its current form.
Today’s senior position comes with punishing demands. It commands up to 90 hours a week. It requires you to be on call, to prioritise work above all else, to spend your days in endless meetings and to network, email and do actual work after hours. There is constant pressure. The schedule is relentless, not to mention the travel and the sheer stress.
And what happens when we discuss work-life balance? As an industry we’re told that you should be passionate or find another job. We’re told that our Asian counterparts fiercely work harder and without complaint. We’re told that our industry has a pace and it’s up to you to make it work.
When you look at the lives of many women contextually, you realise that many of us are having children just as we start to really rise up the career ladder. Family, life and career priorities generally clash and we know that there’s no such thing as “having it all”. But beyond the topic of children, the women I know don’t judge the success of life purely on their career achievements, it’s also about the quality of their relationships, their health and happiness and personal development too. There’s so much more at play. An employee can be replaced but we can’t replace mothers and experiences or barter for better health.
I think there are many women who see what the top job requires and it’s too much in light of other things that they value and want. Women are ambitious. I think it’s the weight, struggle and cost of this ambition in light of everything else in life that can stop us in our tracks.
If we want women in senior positions then we should examine these top positions to see if they are what women want in the overall context of their lives. What could make these roles more appealing?
I have explored this and have collected opinions with a few amazing, inspiring women and here is what I gathered…
What if we re-modeled the senior role?
What if we valued the (rather controversial) decision of putting something else before work? What if we looked at the value of the person and did whatever it took to keep them working with us? What if the senior role offered true flexibility and complete control over your schedule? I like the mesh of work and life and don’t see why they need to be separate. I think relieving the consistent guilt alone would make me more productive and loyal.
What if we questioned the structure of billable hours?
Beyond the fact that we all hate timesheets, the focus of this model lies purely on the time that you’ve spent and the output of that time. The focus isn’t on the results/success of the work, the IP, the business outcomes or even the quality of it. If we are monetized on hours, then the logical scenario is to try and get each employee to bill as many hours as possible. It highlights the input and not the output of our efforts. Focusing on the outputs shifts our focus to getting the job done well, not just how (or where) it got done. It offers greater flexibility in how we see work getting made and I think the rewards could be far greater. There has to be a better way.
What if we learned from our clients?
I realise it’s a wildly controversial thought, but it came through from a few people. Our clients have better boundaries. No one questions why they’re unavailable, or why a particular deadline is in place. No one would call if they said they were unavailable. Why should these boundaries fall just one way? And what if we acted like this with each other? Not raising an eyebrow and respecting time out of the office.
What if men got involved too?
This isn’t just an issue for women, but one that men should rally behind as well.
If it’s women that we want, and we all agree it is, then perhaps we need to be more open minded about why they aren’t in these top roles, and what that top job even looks like.
I don’t think it’s just the women who would benefit from this – I think men and families could also benefit.
What do you think?