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5 Workplace Changes We Need Right Now

5 Workplace Changes We Need Right Now

As a woman and a mother who commuted three hours a day to work on New York City’s Wall Street—and one who just celebrated paying her last childcare bill—I have many thoughts and concerns about those who follow me (including my daughter). As an entrepreneur for the last two years, I also understand the reality of an employer’s cost when it comes to supporting longer maternity leave and additional family-friendly policies. I would like to see it be easier for future generations of working moms and I would also like to see those new practices be business friendly. Here are some ways to reach both of those goals.

#1 The words we use matter

The words we choose can make all the difference. Like most women, I have been in the habit of referring to the challenges we face as “working mother issues.” But words such as “women’s issues” or “diversity inclusion” serve to exclude men from participating in the dialogue. If we begin addressing these issues as “family matters” it will encourage men to become involved in the conversation, and buy-in for change will be easier. Often actions need to change before beliefs.

Many women I know will quickly nod in appreciation when they hear of a situation or example of an employer who was supportive of an issue regarding family. But many of these women also say they often feel that the unspoken—and sometimes actually voiced—view is, “there she goes again” or “I don’t want to be ‘that woman.’ ” When women are about to take a leave to have a baby or other family issue, instead of hearing “when will you be back?” it would be refreshing to hear “I have your back.”

[Related: 5 Ways Top Companies Are Closing The Gender Gap]

#2 We need new avenues for advancement

Timing of career escalation is a significant roadblock for women who wish to engage in the workforce at a professional and executive level. Traditional business school timing, as well as advancement in top law and consulting firms, occurs during a woman’s prime childbearing years. Business schools with access to influential corporations and investment banks require participation in two-year residence programs, which take students away from their family. Law and consulting firms also typically require the most grueling work hours during an employee’s late 20’s and through their 30’s. This is of course the stage when many women (and men) are in the midst of the most time-consuming portion of raising a family.

Why not change the model? Business schools could strive to become virtual, and residency requirements could become obsolete. Law and consulting firms could pay, promote, and offer reward systems based on quality of work and efficiency rather than quantity of hours.

“Family leave” instead of “maternity leave” is a goal that all employers should strive for. Currently top employers are offering—and some even require—family leave for men as well as women. The stigma of family leave needs to be removed for both genders so that it becomes an accepted practice for all and not a career penalty.

#3 Flexibility is long overdue

It is long past due for employers to focus on content, quality, and production versus face time. Flexible work hours should become the norm. Pay, promotion, and rewards systems should be configured to take into account production and quality. Flexible work hours should not be viewed as a privilege but something that all employees have access to and are encouraged to utilize.

It is also time to challenge traditional pay scales, which could potentially benefit all employees and not just women. When hiring a new employee, managers should not base pay on the candidate’s previous salary. Instead they should offer the salary others in like positions are earning. Under the current system, pay discrimination is baked in. Women start lower and they stay lower, and employers get away with this because they set pay at the employee’s initial career point. Imagine a work place where employees doing the same job were paid the same? This would bring transparency in pay and employers would not be fearful of employees learning what others are earning.

[Related: Gender Diversity and Evolution of Consciousness]

#4 We must acknowledge “implicit bias”

Employers and employees should accept the existence of “implicit bias.” I would recommend that everyone visit the Harvard website and take at least one of the tests available on implicit bias. The knowledge of where your own implicit biases lie can help guide your decision-making. Women shouldn’t be seen as deficient if they don’t “lead like a man,” for example. Implicit training and acceptance would encourage more thoughtful decision-making. No one should be made to feel that having an implicit bias is wrong; rather individuals should view it as tool to assist in good business judgment.

#5 We can’t forget the elephant in the room!

All of the above issues are important, of course, but ask any working mother what her biggest challenge is and she will most likely reply that it’s childcare: the cost of childcare, the quality of childcare, childcare when kids are sick, childcare for more than 12 hours a day, childcare for teens; the list goes on. The suggestions above have the potential to lead to better and more accessible childcare. Until they become reality, however, childcare will remain one of the driving obstacles that prevent women from holding professional executive positions in the workforce.

[Related: Stop the Work/Life Balancing Act]

Some large companies have implemented childcare in the workplace and the parents that have benefited from those programs usually feel it is the best option. Work-based childcare centers typically offer “sick” rooms where parents can bring moderately ill children. In addition, parents can stop in during lunch or on breaks to breastfeed infants or check on very young children. It is not economically viable for smaller companies to offer childcare. However, more childcare opportunities located in the midst of working areas instead of suburban neighborhoods would benefit working parents. In addition, it is possible that even smaller companies could opt into a mutual childcare center with other same-size businesses.

This country cannot afford to ignore the childcare issue any longer, and we all need to do our part to ensure that the conversation—and necessary change—happens now.

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Elin Cherry is Principal and Head of Capital Markets Practice at Compliance Risk Concepts (“CRC”). Previously Elin was Director and Head of Business Unit Compliance, for CIT Group Inc. Prior to CIT Elin was at Societe Generale, where she served as Managing Director, Head of Global Markets Compliance and Deputy Director to the Chief Compliance Officer. You can follow her on Twitter @elincherry.


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Ruth Pearce

This is a great article Elin. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and suggestions. I particularly like the idea of networks of smaller companies creating joint childcare facilities. A possible side effect of better childcare for all would be that there would be less children left to their own devices. This could help to keep kids more focused in school and less likely to wander off the straight and narrow. That doesn't just benefit working parents and the companies they work for, but society as a whole.

April 7, 2017

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