Women in the Workplace: Flexibility & Empathy

Laura Mears
Laura Mears
Women in the Workplace often juggle multiple roles. They need flexibility but offer empathy in spades

My Story

I didn’t realise there was an issue about accommodating women in the workplace until I had kids.

Growing up, I held the belief that gender equality was a done deal, and I could be anything I wanted to be. At school we had a Head Girl and a Head Boy. Our Under 15 girls’ basketball team played against the boys’ team and won.

It was around the time I had my kids that cultural inflexibility about women in the workplace began to show itself. When I applied for part-time, I was told that my management role was a full-time post. A colleague and I applied for a job-share, but that was declined. At the time, I accepted the explanation of the difficulties that part-time hours can present for employers. I accepted that it was a different season, and thanks to my old boss putting a word in, I was able to do several casual jobs that utilised my skill set.

But now looking back, I feel differently about this time.  The department I had managed which had achieved outstanding results, shrank and lost ground under my full-time successor. The odd-jobs I did gave me an outlet outside of the home, for which I was grateful. But they paid peanuts related to my qualifications and experience.

Economic Argument for Women in the Workplace

And I see the same pattern amongst other mothers. Some lost themselves for a while, and are still struggling to work out where they fit in. Many women take lesser-paid jobs because they are the only ones that fit around the school-run. Meanwhile, the economy is missing out on highly skilled, multi-faceted women who have the exact skills and expertise that businesses need.

According to the Harvard Review, the key characteristic needed by managers today is empathy. Research into the link between intentional parenting and empathy development seems scarce. But it stands to reason that managers who develop healthy relationships out of work, will have skills they can utilise in the workplace. Businessman Hubert Joly, when reflecting on the evolution of business in the era of Friedman said: “The mistake we made was to think we could lead with the left part of our brain. Our employees are whole people; so are we”.

Women in the Workplace need Calling Up

Becoming a parent has given me an opportunity to invest in my Emotional Intelligence and Self-awareness. What parents need is for their leaders to recognise what they can bring, and to think creatively about how ‘flexible working’ can be a Win/Win. If they take a break, they need leaders to make space to let them back in. Or better still, to go out of their way to seek out these hidden treasures, and call them up.

I am really grateful for the people in my life who have ‘let me back in’. My husband understood my need to ‘take ground’ and encouraged and resourced me to set up our business. Ian, a retired businessman friend, put me on his Board of Trustees, extending understanding when I couldn’t make a meeting. This gave me confidence that I had transferable skills, and that my professional opinion still mattered.

So what can you actively do today to help women in the workplace? Take a moment to think and write down the name of a woman in your life who has more to offer, and needs calling up. Now do something active to encourage them. The world of business will be all the better for it!

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