Category Archives: Child care and the work place

Mad Men poll from the Economist : Women and MBAs

Mad Men meets Stepford Wives in outdated Economist poll

Named Editor of the Year in 2012, Mr John Micklethwait is Editor-in Chief of the Economist. Given his background, as a leading figure in global intellectual and business media, one would assume that he is a pretty smart and savvy gentleman.

The Economist is normally associated with balanced,  neutral, informative reporting on the issues of women in the workplace and business. I am a regular reader. So,  I was astonished  this weekend by a departure from their usual high level,  objective content,  into the tabloid style enforcement of gender stereotypes.

Loss of balance
Why on earth would his publication send out such a thoughtless, sexist poll asking if women with young children should consider waiting before starting an MBA?  Here is the text which reads like something from Mad Men meets The Stepford Wives:

Juggling the twin demands of an MBA programme and young children is bound to be tough. But it is not impossible. According to one student, interviewed here, it means devoting days to classes, afternoons to her daughters, and evenings and Sundays to school work. Still, multi-tasking can be a mistake. Children demand your full attention and trying to concentrate on it and your assignment at the same time inevitably means you do both poorly. One answer is to hire a babysitter. But this can be costly….”

Out of date
Notwithstanding it came out the morning after the major office party night of the year, and a few brain cells might have been lost. Perhaps  Mr. Micklethwait was having a day off. Or maybe the The Economist is short of  readers and needs something a little contentious. Perhaps the 21st century notion of dual career families has completely passed them by. The expectations of women, especially Gen Yers in the area of  the roles their partners play in household and childcare responsibilities, are very different from their mothers’  generations.  Not only that there are actually  significant numbers of  men who want to be actively involved in their children’s upbringing.  My own questions would be:

  • Why don’t they pose the same questions to men?
  • Where are the fathers in the childcare process? Why are they coming home when the children are asleep?

Only one-third of MBA students are women. Surely the poll  and business schools should be trying to establish  how to attract high calibre women without imposing the ” Mummy penalty”, rather than going into the family planning advisory business which serves to re-enforce out dated thinking. As one MBA candidate in a career workshop in Paris told me last week, as a married man with children  he felt he was perceived as offering employers stability, echoing Curt Rice’s fatherhood bonus theory.

This is perpetuating any number of outmoded stereotypes:

  • That childcare is the exclusive role and responsibility of the mother.
  • MBAs are for men
  • Women who are both mothers and professionals will “inevitably” do both roles poorly.
  • Women who focus on the achievement of their own goals will feel guilty.

Here is the story of one woman, Lynn Barbour  who broke the curve.  I suggest that J.L.H.D of The Economist, Atlanta  interview her as well,   to show how it can all be achieved successfully. Lynn says “While formal strategies of employers and business schools need to be strengthened to increase the percentage of women in MBAs, I believe most of the change required starts with individuals” There must be a multitude of other women who have done the same and would not be OK with their partner coming home when the kids are in bed!

There are many reasons why women don’t make it to the top,  but I suspect fitting in a nappy/diaper change around an MBA assignment will not be one of them. Gender stereotypes reenforced by an influential, global press publication are far more likely to strengthen any barriers, than make dents in them.

Perhaps what we need is a female editor for the Economist.

What do you think?

Women in Finance : Breaking glass

This interview with Sandra Rapacioli Sustainability and Leadership Specialist at C.I.M.A. ( Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) is the first in a series looking into women’s roles in different global business sectors.

Sandra Rapacioli is responsible for producing and promoting thought leadership within C.I.M.A., with a special interest in the progression of women into senior roles. She has been involved in the commissioning of a report Breaking Glass: Strategies for Tomorrow’s Leaders within the finance function.

DD: What are the main issues facing women in the finance function in business and industry today?

SR: Worldwide CIMA has 71,657 members. 26,366 (31%) are female members and 45,291 (43%) are female students, in a total of 168 countries. This is a significant percentage. The proportion of CIMA female fellows (members with considerable leadership experience) varies across the globe. But with women now making up a third of CIMA’s members and just under half of CIMA’s students, our female members are six times less likely than male members to be in senior roles such as CFO or CEO. The women we spoke to have identified two main challenges in their careers: the problem of achieving a satisfying work-life balance, and the difficulty of being taken seriously in male dominated businesses. This should be surprising because as part of a management team, management accountants are increasingly required to tap into their soft skills to persuade and influence the other stakeholders in their organisations. This requires trust and empathy, qualities women traditionally exhibit in considerable measure.

DD: Do you feel there is overt discrimination?

SR: While few of the women we spoke to in the preparation of the report felt they had suffered from direct discrimination, some had definitely come face to face with strong prejudices. All acknowledged that it was difficult for a woman to succeed and earn respect in male dominated industries, often due to entrenched attitudes and stereotypes. Some members found they simply had to stay positive in the face of these barriers. Other members working in more transparent company cultures felt that opportunities are generally greater. Our research suggests that it’s actually easier for women to succeed in some Asian countries, despite a few of our members in this region telling us that they had struggled with some outdated attitudes about the role of women.

DD: Why are Asian women finding it easier to succeed?

SR: In many parts of Asia the extended family is very strong and childcare arrangements are easier with grandparents and other family members living locally.

DD:What advice are you giving your female members?

SR: The successful women we interviewed employ a range of strategies – in addition to working hard, to help them succeed. These ranged from setting clear career goals and using mentors to help promote themselves within the organisation and externally. We definitely advise them to seek support, although with an absence of women at a senior level, most of the mentoring is carried out by men. We also advise our members to improve their networking skills by joining female networking groups – both internal and external. Raising individual profiles within their organisations is also one of our key strategies to success. Self promotion is something else we have also advocated, but that also doesn’t come easily to many women.

DD: What else do you recommend women members do?

SR: We recommend that all women members plan their careers path in detail and create a strategy – focusing on short-term and long-term goals to factor in all organisational eventualities: for example ensuring backup childcare and prioritising daily tasks, delegating where appropriate.

DD: What did you identify that organisations could do to redress this balance?

SR: All research indicates that when women represent 30% of any group, financial performance is increased and that companies should acknowledge that there is an existence of bias in recruitment, so we are suggesting to HR departments and organisations that they do a number of things : set performance targets for female retention and promotion and not only reconsider the composition of selection teams for leadership roles but also encourage women to apply for any leadership positions. We want companies to invest in leadership development and training opportunities for high potential women by encouraging the identification and understanding of relevant career paths and supporting the necessary stepping-stones for leadership roles. We would also like to see the completion of career potential analysis for all women leaders.

DD: How far do you believe women are from achieving parity in your sector?

SR: We have a long way to go, but we are certainly taking the necessary steps to make this happen.

Home and work: Balance or convergence?

Transplanting biz strategies into the home
The gender split of household duties and child care as well as a general work/ life balance, is one of the most talked about issues in any group of working women whether on-line or IRL. In a women’s online professional forum I have recently joined as a mentor, the issue is debated intensely, although with few solutions offered. Complaints abound: the lack of workplace flexibility, partner inflexibility, school runs, orthodontists appointments, parent teacher conferences, nanny, crèche and au pair issues

Earlier this year, I carried out a survey of Gen Y women and 54% indicated that they expected their partners to be fully engaged in household management and childcare, so with older generations letting go of the Superwoman myth, things should be improving. However currently many women are still assuming a greater share of domestic and childcare responsibilities.

Non – alpha males
Lucy Kellaway in an article in the FT.com Breaking the glass ceiling at home carried out an analysis of the partners of the top 50 Women in World Business. and decided that these women successful were in relationships with non-alpha males. “The biggest reason that alpha women don’t become CEOs is that they have made the common, yet fatal, error of marrying an alpha man” These non alpha males are seemingly happy to take a back seat and let their partner’s careers take priority.

I think however we need to bring some financial perspective into this discussion. Ms Rosenfeld’s husband, may have given up his professional activity, but was it really to pick up a dish cloth or pair up the socks? With Ms Rosenfeld’s compensation package according to Forbes estimated to be at $26m I somewhat doubt it.

Genetic hardwiring
Lucy Kellaway’s theory, interesting though it is, also flies in the face of anthropological theories fielded by psychologists who tell us that women are genetically programmed to seek out the males who will help them produce the strongest children. In organisations, these men are commonly (but not always I agree) found near the top of the pyramid, profession or chosen field of activity. So it would suggest that ambitious women would tend to seek out like-minded men.

So how does the average non salary millionaire couple strike up the ideal balance, so that both can achieve their career goals? As the workplace becomes more flexible with dress down Friday’s, remote working, and with the possibility of employees being professionally contactable any time and anywhere, how are some couples and single parents dealing with this?

I spoke to a number of different women and it seemed that many were applying business techniques in the home. I heard the words procedure manuals, outsourcing, monthly meetings, responsibility allocation, forward planning.

Personal stories
Julia a senior business consultant told me ” I approached it almost in a business change management way. During my maternity leave , I identified key tasks, drew up ” job profiles ” for our domestic management, splitting chores and responsibilities according to our strengths and capabilities and what was logistically possible. We agreed to allocate a budget for a weekly cleaning company, because neither of us want to spend our very little free time doing the ironing. We decided that in the short-term to take the financial hit to make life easier and it was a small penalty to pay for both of us staying on our career paths“.

It was one of my greatest professional challenges combining work and home” Sarah now a CFO with an international pharmaceutical company ” the early years were very stressful. I had a number of au pairs and nanny’s which basically ate up my whole salary. At the time my husband wanted me to give up work and stay at home. Happily I didn’t because we are now divorced! As a single parent I allocate domestic responsibilities between my children. We all have the equivalent of job descriptions and ad hoc project management duties! I am lucky I can employ domestic support – a man before you ask!

Sally’s approach is much more indirect ” I cultivated some weaknesses. I made a mess of the laundry early in our relationship and it’s not a job that I’m now expected to do. I designed a procedure manual and made sure all the recipes we use are in there. Now my son aged 13 has his own copy and is quite a competent cook. I use online shopping and home delivery for almost everything and even outsource the ironing. I’m one of those crazy people who goes to the supermarket at midnight! “

Melissa and her partner have a monthly domestic meeting in the same way as they might in an office. “We check how we are doing. Manage our budget, make plans and allocate responsibilities. Now the kids are older they also join in for the last part. The minute we let the formal structure slide – chaos descends in no time! “

So as the gender split of domestic responsibilities becomes a workplace issue, some women are making a corporate style stamp on their home management. But is this a successful attempt to find balance or a destructive convergence as Stephen Covey suggests in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families,Home life has become more like an efficiently run but joyless workplace , while the actual workplace with its emphasis on empowerment and teamwork, is more like a family

What do you think?

The season of discontent: Singles speak out

Workplace flexibility for all
I spent some time in the autumn with a mixed group of younger high-powered professionals. What they all had in common was that they were either single, or if they were in relationships, they had no children. Young and fancy free – sounds fun right? Well ..no!

Chat moved on to their plans for Christmas. There was more than a little disgruntlement about the issue of how their offices would be staffed during the holiday season. Some companies now close completely, but others expect a level of skeleton manning. There seemed to be an unwritten expectation in all their organisations (cross sector) that when it came to allocating holidays there was a pecking order: employees with children would be given (or take) priority and then the singletons, would be expected to volunteer to organise cover amongst themselves.

These guys were not happy! Not just because they wanted to go skiing or the Maldives (although a few did) but because they had their own obligations and commitments which they considered to be equally important. In recent research I carried out on the priorities of Gen Y women, I saw that they were somewhat intolerant of workplace flexibility for women only and advocated flexibility for all.

Other obligations
David, a Consultant with a major audit company fumed “My parents are divorced and I need to make 2 family visits. It’s just not possible to do that in a few days. All I want to do is take my vacation time when I want it. Last year I provided weekend cover and worked late in December, so that the parents could go to school concerts and do Christmas things with their kids. Parents assume they are entitled to take the time off between Christmas and New Year. I will be expected to work. It’s not that I begrudge them flexi-time – but I think it should be offered to all

There are also many different types of care and domestic or family responsibilities. Susan is single in her early 50s and has strong obligations to look after her widowed mother, now in her mid 80s. Peter’s wife has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and requires additional support. They claim , that the fact that an individual has no children doesn’t mean their commitments are necessarily any less demanding. In a C.C.H. survey carried out in 2007 in relation to unscheduled absenteeism, more than 60% of unscheduled absence is related to non sickness reasons, resulting in huge costs to companies.

Responsibility to and for self
But what about the employee who has no responsibilities for others, but simply wants workplace flexibility to allow them to look after themselves? As working days and commutes become longer, technology now offers many options to facilitate that. Workplace stress also causes significant organisational and health issues, so shouldn’t employees be encouraged to give their own needs priority?

Madeleine was more direct and took a firmer view. “People with kids feel that their family status puts them into a special category. Having children is a lifestyle choice. Couples know what the issues are when they make the decision to have a family. My boss quite often asks me to cover for her when she has to leave early or work remotely to deal with childcare issues ( she has 4 kids) .I’m totally OK with that, but when I wanted to go to the gym in office hours, because fitness is a high priority for me and after a 12 hour day, I’m too tired, it was suggested that I go at lunchtime. Lunchtime is for eating! ”

Fun!
The irony might be that working Mums, the group which cries out for work place flexibility the hardest, would actually benefit if that perk became standard for all. Leanne Chase of Career Life Connection takes the matter one step further and suggests that with regard to workplace flexibility “ for it to be universal we need to place a whole lot less emphasis on “family” “women” “care-giving” and “children.”

Could it be the protests from the singletons who want to look after themselves, or simply take time off at the holidays to relax and have fun, with no obligations at all, which will make a difference?

What do you think?

© Copyright, 2010, All rights reserved.

How divorce impacts executive search strategies

Does the traditional nuclear family facilitate our talent management strategies?

One of the areas that anyone involved in the hiring process is not allowed to explore is the marital /relationship status of  any potential candidates. I am completely supportive of this, but with the caveat that it is impossible to separate a significant part of someone’s life and assume it doesn’t exist. It does, and in most cases, any difficulties will usually surface somewhere in the career transition process. Life issues do eventually become workplace issues.

Rise in divorce rates
I have noticed recently how the rise in divorce rates is impacting executive search. Last week alone, a significant number of potential candidates expressly cited divorce as a reason for not engaging in the search process.

Life events
This information is based on candidates willingly and voluntarily sharing very private and sensitive information with a total stranger. There are possibly others who just have just cited location, travel requirements, timing and all the other reasons candidates give for not being interested in a position. I have no idea if they are the real reasons. Given that (depending on the stats you read) roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce,  it’s perhaps possible that divorce underlies many candidates reluctance to engage.

Changing jobs is also one of life’s major challenges, especially to a new company, in possibly a new location.  Having these two major life events occurring simultaneously is too much for many. Even if the opportunity is a perfect fit, they have to turn it down.

Psychological impact
As anyone who has been through the process will tell you, the effects of divorce can change virtually every aspect of a person’s life including where they live and with whom , their standard of living, their emotional well-being, their financial situation and liabilities and time spent with children. For many their social group will change and perhaps the needs of new partners and their children will also have to be factored in, as modern family life becomes ever more complex. Almost all would describe it as a challenging and stressful time.

Time issues
The divorce process saps enormous amounts of both time and energy. It involves meetings with possibly lawyers, counsellors or therapists, real estate agents and financial advisors. Stress can lead to health issues requiring medical treatment. James, an ideal candidate for one particular search told me ” There is no way I could focus on changing jobs right now. I am struggling to keep all my balls in the air currently as it is. I have been depressed. Looking for somewhere new to live, dealing with lawyers and seeing my children at weekends, as well as my job, is all I can cope with at the moment. My manager is cutting me a lot of slack”

Childcare
For one or both parties it will mean moving house, itself a life challenge. Child care arrangements will need to be set up as more and more children (50%) split their time between two households. This places a greater reliance for any professional person on local support networks,  which might include grandparents, day care or help at home, if it can be afforded. Quite often the current employer has been sympathetic which fosters additional and strong employee loyalty. Sometimes those same flexible arrangements cannot be replicated with a new company, especially at the start of a new job.

Joint custody
I talked to Annick in France whose employer had agreed to her travelling only during the weeks her ex husband was responsible for the care of their two children. This time was fixed by the court and was not flexible. But additionally, professional input suggests that fixed routines for children under these circumstances are best for their well-being and have to be strictly observed. Annick felt that her hands were tied at least for the next 10 years, until the children (ages 6 and 8 ) became more independent. Her future career she believed  would now be limited to local opportunities with limited travel.

Remote working
Many potential candidates in these circumstances ask about remote working. Most companies are reluctant to afford that facility to new employees at the beginning of their careers with their organisation, except possibly those in the sales force. There will usually be a certain period of onboarding, where it’s important for the new employee to be physically located with the people he or she is working with or managing.

Re-locating
Relocating as part of a family unit has its own stresses ( I’ve done it), but relocating as a single person, or even a single parent, is not straightforward. Pieter in Holland, in his early 50s with 2 adult children told me ” I’ve just gone through a divorce and chosen a house to be within easy distance of my kids. It has taken me time to rebuild my life and a social network. I just don’t want to start over in a new place. I am happy to travel so if the company would agree to some element of home office working – I could be open”

Travel
Saskia, is a senior executive I contacted her for a position based outside her native country, with a reasonably high level of travel. With the ink barely dry on her divorce papers she felt that she may not even be allowed to take her children out of the country on a permanent basis by her ex husband or the courts. With the high level of travel, she would have to hire support to cover any extended absence in addition to daycare. She didn’t want to do that, not just for financial reasons, but she simply didn’t want to put her children in on what would be at times 24 hour care, in a foreign country. In her current job and location their grandparents stepped in to fill the gap.

Trend
This significant trend is already having an impact on workplace dynamics. In the talent management sector we have become reliant on the existence of the traditional nuclear family, as a way of facilitating the movement of talent and supporting career transition. But it seems that is changing, so we have to find ways to adjust our strategies to make sure we are not losing the best talent because of circumstances which now a high percentage of the population are experiencing .

So what do we need to do to adapt to those changes? Ideas anyone?