Women and Work: Are You Watching the Fire? Or Doing Your Part?

I am simultaneously fascinated, horrified, stunned and motivated by the firestorm of conversations occurring right now around two events:

  • The leaked Yahoo memo announcing the “death” of working at home in that organization – for now anyway.
  • Sheryl Sandberg releasing her book Lean In. It is getting a lot of criticism for not being realistic in its career advice for women. It actually isn’t even released yet and the yelling has begun.

In the 20+ articles I’ve read in the last few days, I am fascinated by the swirl of opinion. I am also stunned by the various implications and conclusions drawn, such as:

  • Flexibility and the ability to work at home is/is not the birthright of today’s workers
  • Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer are / are not good role models for women. OR  They are / are not in touch with “every woman” experience.

Why are these two events being commented on so much? Because they are third rails in the ongoing discussion around women and their careers. The first being, “Is a flexible work situation a necessary enabler?” and secondly, “What example are these high-visibility role models for women setting?”

While I appreciate the discussion, and have certainly participated in many myself, at some point, you have to stop talking and start doing. 

So, are you watching the firestorm from the sidelines? Or fanning the flames? Are YOU doing your part to impact your own flexible situation? Are you having discussions within your workplace about gender equality?

First, YOU can influence your (hopefully flexible) workplace.

At the end of the day, I am doubly motivated to keep pursuing my own path, and influencing the people that I work with. I can choose:

  • How I respect the flexibility I have in my career – Not abusing the trust that my clients put in me to produce outcomes without being onsite. While I am thankful for the flexibility that I have, I don’t apologize for it. I have earned it. It works. End of story.
  • How I advise and encourage flexible options for others – Taking the extra mile to brainstorm creative ways to get work done off-site.
  • How I work with my teams off-site and otherwise – Technology tools to keep connected are invaluable.

After reading all the articles and interviews, it is hard to ignore the research showing the benefits of flexible work situations (done right). I loved the no-nonsense article that Jaleh Bisharat wrote, Flexible Work Can Revolutionize Your Company (If You Do it Right). She states,

“…is it time to rethink and articulate how we attract, empower and manage talent when it is remote some or all of the time?”

In  this article, she details her guidelines for managing “non-traditional” work teams. It’s an excellent re-cap of things we all should know and follow with off-site / part-time, etc. teams to keep them humming along like a well-oiled machines.

Second, YOU can choose how to react to gender bias in your workplace. 

It is also hard to ignore the data compiled which demonstrates systemic bias against women. In Whitney Johnson’s article, Lean In: Is Sheryl Sandberg Giving Advice to Herself? she cites numerous studies concluding gender bias in school and work situations. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the statistics. Aaaack! My stomach turns and my head hurts.

And in the watershed Anne-Marie Slaughter article last fall, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All she addresses systemic changes that she believes need to be made to level the gender playing field in the workplace. I happen to completely agree with her.

But until such changes happen…

I can choose:

  • How I handle injustices I see (speaking up for a woman whose right to be on a project was questioned because, “she looks thirteen”, despite obvious capability)
  • How I act in the workplace (conducting myself with professionalism and hopefully modeling the behavior I want to see in others)

I love the simple advice Tina Fey gives in her book Bossypants* regarding handling sexism, ageism etc. that you may be confronted with.

“Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, forget it and move on…

Finally, YOU can influence the next generation – your children (and their friends)  

  • How I support my children and their dreams is something I think about daily.

I am setting an example for my kids and encouraging whatever they want to do.  They are young. Still in that delightful stage of life where fearlessness and unfettered expectations are on their side.

In Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s article We Need to Tell Girls They Can Have It All (Even If They Can’t) one of her comments grabbed my attention.

“It is high time that unapologetic ambition for those who feel it became the rule, rather than the exception. Because ambition cannot be taught, but it can be crushed.”

I believe that is the job of all parents. To encourage their children’s dreams. I have a child who is dead certain that she will be on the show, The Voice, one day. Should I be telling her that only a tiny percent of singers get to try out for the show, let alone be on it? No, I tell her that hard work pays off and if that’s what she wants to do, work with her on how to get there.

So, are YOU up for your part? At the end of the day, if we believe that we have the right to shoot for the stars, and encourage that in others, that will help us all.

 *NOTE: If you have NOT read Bossypants, please do so immediately. Or better yet, download the audio book version which she narrates herself.  It is effortlessly funny and sagely wise.

Until next time … wishing you business readiness success!

Kirsten Jordan is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @Kirstenkbdb. Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.

Image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net