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Feeling Overworked with Limited Negotiating Power? You Need an Efficiency Advocate.

Feeling Overworked with Limited Negotiating Power? You Need an Efficiency Advocate.

Co-Authored by Bendita Cynthia Malakia and Aaisha Hamid

The career literature is overflowing with threats of a “shecession”: the phenomenon of working mothers being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and recession, leaving the workforce in significant numbers due to seemingly rational individual decisions that are often the result of systemic bias.

There are debates about what will prevent this mass exodus from the workforce, including whether the solutions should be structural or individual. As with most things, the correct answer is likely an inclusive “both/and”. The barriers to each approach being successful are expected. Structural change is challenging when many organizational leaders are begging for the pre-pandemic world. On the other hand, galvanizing enough political power to ensure individual change is unlikely.

In the absence of uniform governmental interventions to ensure that all people can continue to participate in the workforce and pursue their careers, we must identify structural and individual considerations in the short term. This is critical if our organizations wish to retain underrepresented talent and the value they provide and avoid the expense of replacing them.

One proposal is to have a CEO. No, not a Chief Executive Officer or a Chief Empathy Officer, but a Chief Efficiency Officer. You might alternatively call it an efficiency advocate or a Chief Streamlining Officer.

Despite the shifting landscape, organizational objectives must be met while navigating the sundry challenges of each individual worker. No doubt the challenges working caregivers and others navigating complex societal demands face vary widely: some have infants and no childcare, others are now stand-in teachers, some have children of different ages such that they can only work in the middle of the night. Dealing with all these situations requires different solutions. There is one common denominator: all these individuals have too much work to perform substantially well and not as much time as they had previously to do it. Anecdotally, working parents tend to be superlatively efficient, however, the current circumstances have made accomplishing all that our organizations expect an untenable feat.

You might be thinking: align a worker’s actions with the functional or organizational strategy, assist in prioritization, advocate for the individual’s needs – what happened to this person’s manager? Ideally, our managers would take on the role, but managers have some practical challenges that can make it difficult for them to effectively assist their direct reports in operating adeptly in the current environment:

  • Leaders are judged by the accomplishments of their direct reports; fewer accomplishments may have a negative impact on the manager
  • While some managers may be best positioned to understand the most effective way to implement the functional strategy, they may not have adequately pivoted or revised their strategy to account for the resource constraints and shifted objectives of a pandemic environment; their own bias toward their own creation or methods may prevent objectivity and adaptability

The current crises present a world that is fraught with individual and organizational challenges that can sometimes make it difficult for departments to function in the ways their people need them to. Finding solutions tailored to individual needs is not easy and is limited due to leaders’ attention on other issues they need to handle contemporaneously, including budget trimmings, layoffs, and resource scarcity. In addition, individuals in people-centric functions are often fighting to demonstrate their function’s value while managing their and others’ personal issues. It is a lot and it is exhausting.

Some managers are thus somewhat limited in their scope and ability to successfully advocate for and derive results from senior leadership for their direct reports. This leaves a quickly growing base of people with nuanced issues alone at work to configure their own imperfect solutions. These solutions may not align with or prioritize the ever-evolving organizational strategy that is itself attempting to keep up with the shifting demands of the present environment.

An organization’s success relies on its people’s productivity. One of the key factors high-performance workplaces share in common includes a strong engagement strategy. Leaders need someone whose singular focus is to navigate the organization with a human-centered approach to achievement.

Workers need someone who can connect with them where they are and coordinate with human resources, diversity and inclusion, operations, and others, to provide a holistic solution that matches their individual needs. Now is not the time for workplaces to expect individual workers to parse together their own solutions or for different departments to understand how to resolve the intersecting, complex worker issues that sometimes require innovative thinking in today’s world.

Individuals tend to be creatures of habit. Institutions are no different. Many organizations have standard, sometimes archaic, systems, and processes that govern the workplace. An inability to find different ways to resolve persistent issues could be very costly at retaining highly valued, underrepresented talent. Holistically supporting individuals in the workforce with quasi-individual / quasi-institutional solutions is the human approach organizations can embrace right now to succeed.

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Aaisha Hamid is Diversity & Inclusion Senior Coordinator at Hogan Lovells. She is the author of two grant-funded books and has traveled locally, nationally, and internationally to speak about a wide range of topics ranging from identity politics and issues impacting women in the workforce to addressing culture and religion in contemporary society. Aaisha’s work has been featured in the Voice-Tribune magazine, the Courier Journal, the Weekly Urdu Post Canada, channel Y, Pakistan’s Safeer E Pakistan program on Geo TV, and WLKY’s #GirlPower segment with Katie George.

Bendita Cynthia Malakia is the Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hogan Lovells, leading the firm’s global diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (D&I) efforts to ensure that underrepresented professionals can thrive. As chief architect of the firm’s D&I strategy, Bendita serves as a catalyst for underrepresented colleagues to be their authentic selves in the workplace and for others to invest in them, and working across difference to create community – by building systems, inspiring investment, and engaging allyship. With a metrics-driven and people-centric approach, Bendita also coaches and supports clients to help them achieve their individual and institutional D&I aspirations. You can connect with Bendita at www.linkedin.com/in/bendita or www.benditamalakia.com.


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