Article by Anna Meller
There comes a point in the lives of many women where they choose to compromise their career by settling for less or stepping off the career track altogether.
That moment is often triggered by the realisation that the working world is not set up to support women’s work-life balance needs. Typically it occurs at some point on the motherhood journey. You want to work reduced hours to accommodate family needs and your employer makes it clear you cannot do that and progress to a senior level role. You find yourself settling for less, downshifting or in some cases even being seduced into thinking mumpreneur is the better career option.
The irony is that the same employers who’ve failed to adjust their working practices to accommodate the reality of women’s lives are the ones who are wringing their hands as they seek solutions to their gender pay gap problems. Waiting for things to magically change is pointless, which is why my book urges women to take matters into their own hands and upcycle their jobs.
Why upcycle? Because when we do we take something preloved, strip it down to its valuable core and enhance it, we end up with something more relevant to our current lifestyle. If we can do that with furniture and clothing why not with our jobs?
We can redesign the work we do to make better use of our skills while enabling us to live a more balanced life. That’s the first step. We must then quantify the business benefits of making the changes and negotiate a suitable new arrangement with our employer. Coincidentally, the skills needed to achieve this are the same ones that will serve you in good stead as you progress into senior management.
Why redesign your job?
Many of us fall into the trap of finding our time at work tied up with low value tasks that do not make best use of our skills. When you step back and consider how you might work more efficiently you’re in good company. Research has shown that people regularly adjust the content of their jobs and the way they carry them out. The most common way of doing this is through a process known as Job Crafting. If you’re seeking to reduce your working hours the exercise of reviewing and redesigning your job becomes even more crucial if you wish to avoid the pressures of trying to cram five days’ work into three or four.
Working out the business case
A request to work flexibly in a senior role is still often met with a negative response. There’s often an implicit assumption that people committed to their careers should be available to work long hours and prioritise work over every other aspect of their lives.
Developing a sound business argument for the benefits of your new arrangement – not just for you but also your for manager, your team and even your clients – is essential. It will help you sell the arrangement to those around you; and provide you with the confidence to negotiate.
You’ll need to upcycle your skills as well
It goes without saying that first class negotiation skills will help you achieve the working arrangement you desire and navigate the tricky interactions with stakeholders that may arise as a result. This is particularly likely if you’re pioneering a new working arrangement that’s unfamiliar to your employer. Recognise there will be a steep learning curve; but in the long run it will pay off. You’ll also have the potential to be a role model for other working mothers coming up through the organisation.
In addition to becoming a better negotiator there are other skills you’ll need to enhance. Some of these are around working practices – such as improving your assertiveness, planning and communication skills. Other skills in need of an upgrade will be those that support your work-life balance – such as boundary management and mindfulness.
Pressing for workplace change
Mothers have a long history of pressing for workplace change. It started when large numbers of women entered the corporate world in the second half of the last century. There they met practices designed for men whose only focus was on work; and whose non-working wives addressed all their other needs. It was women who lobbied for flexible hours and childcare support. We would not have arrangements like term-time working and job-share if it had not been for them. It’s now up to current generations of women in the workplace to continue pressing employers so we create organisations that are gender balanced at all levels of seniority. It’s time for women to stop compromising and stop settling; and to step up, take control of their own careers and forge a new path to the top.