There is a great deal of talk on why women struggle to break the glass ceiling and much talk of sexism and wage inequality. While these are definitely concerns, in my experience,
The biggest barrier to women having a fulfilling career is the logistics of raising a family without losing their footing in their chosen career.
Often when a woman goes back to work, their original position is no longer a good fit. The challenges can include:
- the number of hours or days that works for their family situation,
- the proportion of their day they are now willing to sacrifice to commuting, or
- the commitment to be ‘on call’ to respond to emails during their every waking hour.
Not enough employers offer positions with reduced hours/days or positions where the employee can work from home. Even where companies do offer these options, it can be difficult for a woman to advance their career if they choose to go this route.
For women who decide to take more of a career break while they raise their children – either due to childcare costs, or because it is what works best for their family, reintegration into the workforce in their area of expertise can be even more of a challenge.
Keeping up with new developments can be tricky, especially in an industry heavily dependent on technology. Let’s face it, that’s a huge portion of the workforce these days.
Often when women are on maternity leave, they have little, or no, contact with their workplace. That’s fine if that’s what they want but for me, and for many women, they would like to be kept in the loop and given opportunities for team building and professional development. This way, they arrive back in the workforce in a better position and with more confidence than they might otherwise have.
Currently, when women return to work, they often end up taking minimum wage positions or positions requiring they take a huge pay cut. Generally, these jobs are a step away from their chosen career path.
This is NOT a good solution for society; we end up with people applying for minimum wage positions competing with people with masters degrees. These jobs should be enabling other people to earn a living or young people to get a foothold on the career ladder.
If you are an employer, how can you help? Whether a large, or small company, take the time to think about how to address some of these challenges; ensure you include them in this year’s strategic plan. Some strategies might include:
- Allowing employees to work from home more often. If this means employees are not able to be as productive as when they are in the office, consider offering remuneration commensurate with the productivity they are able to offer.
- Providing flextime to enable school/daycare drop-offs, attendance at appointments, school activities etc.
- Offering reduced days/hours. This may not work in every situation and may not be ideal for many companies, but once you factor in the value of employee retention, this option begins to be more attractive.
- Rethinking policies on communication during maternity leave.
There are a number of market leaders out there. There’s a great article from Fast Company: Five Flexible Work Strategies and the Companies that Use Them. You can also find case studies about various companies making this work in both tech (eg. Dell, IBM, Buffer) and more traditional industries (eg. Sodexo, Kaplan).
In order to see significant progress, we need involvement, not just from companies, but also from governments and from women themselves.
Governments could look at offering wage subsidies for women re-entering their field after a career break.
If you are a woman* who likes their company and/or their position but need more flexibility, begin to advocate for changes that would allow you to forge your career path without it being at the expense of your family.
Gather some case studies and articles to present to your boss or the company owner and provide a succinct summary of the strategies other companies have found to be helpful. The articles below might provide you with a starting point. Offer to try one or more strategies on a trial basis.
- 5 Types of Work Flex and Flexible Work Schedules
- 12 Types of Flexible Work Arrangements You Can Actually Do
- Working Mother Top 10: Squeezing Life Into The Workday
Let’s all work together to help women reach their full potential and stop wasting years of training and education.
* I recognize that women are not always the primary caregivers when it comes to childcare. These strategies work just as well for men returning to work as it does for women.
Other great articles and resources:
- How to Create a Women Friendly Workplace
- 5 Tested Steps to Create a Female Friendly Workplace
- 2016 Working Mother 100 Best Companies
- 1 Million for Work Flexibility
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