Are flexi-work options effective enough to engage & retain women at work?

 

Yet another survey report shatters the myth that “women can have it all”. Women in the workplace 2016 study by LeanIn.org & Mckinsey & Co. highlights the gap between the organizational efforts to drive gender equality & it outcomes for corporate America, where 75% of CEO’s rate such initiatives as their top business priority but only 48% of employees feel that their organizations are doing something concrete for engagement, development & retention of women employees. I am sure the trend remains unchanged for other nations as well.

A quick research on the measures taken show that they are mostly designed around convenient work arrangements/ timings. While these provide flexibility and first level comfort to employees in balancing their personal commitments, they do not address the underlying issues which actually compel women to drop out.

I am sharing some point of views/ thoughts on the governing variables of the problem which can help us rethink the action strategies.

POV 1: Lack in understanding of the real issues of women employees & their impact

Women today have two parallel life cycles, personal & professional, where they transition from one role to the other with increasing role expectations. Yes! it gets difficult, managing a family, job, the support systems and self in the existing eco-system. Thus leading to psychosomatic issues like stress, burn out, guilt, feeling of inadequacy, low self-image and ultimately impacts the overall well-being. But organizational set ups fail to address these proactively through meaningful interventions. The policies, benefits and programs are cosmetic and offered at a juncture, when the personal life demands have already overtaken the professional ones and women are struggling to stay put.

How can this be changed?

It is essential that organizations put in sincere efforts to study the issues and challenges women face in each life stage along with their impact on physical, psychological & social level. A good place to start with is analysis of gender specific data like time based analysis of reasons for exit, performance data etc. These will generate a lot of opportunities for designing interventions which will sensitize or proactively prepare them to address situations in their lives.

Some of the interventions which can be looked at are:

  • Sensitization programs for young women (2-4 years work experience) on the evolution of personal life graph, the challenges or demands it will impose and how it needs to be managed. Have senior women employees share their success stories, equip them with ways to successfully manage such transitions without being overwhelmed or acting helpless. This is critical because most of the working women in the initial years operate on a level playing field and happily assume that it is going to be the same. But in reality the field begins to change with marriage, motherhood, maternity break, husbands’ professional growth, age & health issues. While they are continuously being told what to do they are never guided on how part of it.
  • With the IOT women associate with various virtual forums seeking advice on image management, navigating motherhood, legal issues, financial planning, work life balance, fitness, pursuing passions and stress management. You name it and there is a group promising to be your savior. Why not provide all this in-house, where women spend more than 50% of their time on daily basis. Build informal network of peers, mentors and counselors to help them open up and share their innermost fears, frustrations, worries, inadequacies with an assurance that they are being heard and guided along without being judged. They may not be actively guided but just a platform where they can connect with someone to visualize things for themselves, get some perspective and undisturbed thinking time out of their routine.
  • With the lifestyle challenges and biological make up of women, they are prone to fatigue and ailments more easily. In addition to this, it is observed that they do not follow a fixed health regime due to lack of time and awareness. Sessions on healthy living can vary from yoga, post par-tum depression, cancer awareness, stress & active living, diet and nutrition for self & kids and the likes.
  • Last but not the least, professional programs on helping women rediscovering themselves, their passions, giving them alternate set of skills enabling them to continue working within organizations or outside of it, because that is what real efforts towards gender equality  should  achieve.

There is more to come on this issue in the subsequent posts, the next one will touch upon the role of  the other gender in the equation. Till that time please share your thoughts and feedback.

 

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