Women and the Future of Work: Leadership in an Evolving Workplace

The workplace is changing. Suddenly, it’s trendy to offer ping-pong tables, gym reimbursements, and even free beer. The most meaningful shift, however, comes in the form of more flexible work policies. At a recent panel hosted by Ellevate Network, three powerful women sat down with moderator Emilie Aries to discuss women’s role in shaping the future of work.

No More 9-5: A Welcome Shift

The advent of more flexible work policies comes with a dramatic shift in workforce demographics. Kristin Sharp, Executive Director of SHIFT, explained that it’s not just women and millennials who are demanding more flexibility; it’s also parents and near-retirees, who are both navigating times of transition. And technology makes these policies more feasible. Instead of needing access to a physical filing cabinet, for example, you can securely access documents from home via cloud apps.

While some companies may cling to rigid policies, the ones that grow will be the ones that embrace flexibility, said Toni Thompson, Head of Talent and HR at The Muse. Women don’t want to work for organizations where burnout is the norm. And flexible work policies go hand-in-hand with being a results-driven organization, which is good for growth.

Chanel Cathey, Head of Corporate Practice at Hunt & Gather, added that establishing norms goes beyond simply offering summer Fridays. Norms are cultural, and flexible policies are useless if the expectation is still that you work long hours in an office.

This cultural change starts at the very top. Organizations must first want to be inclusive, said Thompson. In her experience, the key to making these policies more widespread is to make them gender-blind. Company-wide “no meeting” days or work-from-home days can reset expectations about workplace boundaries for all employees, not just women. The answer isn’t to create new norms for women but to create new norms — period.

To Advocate for Healthier Workplace Norms, You Have to Lead

But new norms are a catch-22: though flexibility overwhelmingly helps women and parents, women won’t benefit from such policies unless they advocate for them. Policies like work-from-home days start with leadership, but leadership isn’t limited to the C-suite. All panelists agreed that women must advocate for themselves effectively, and that means adopting leadership traits themselves. Before pitching an idea, Cathey advised, you need to think it through — a fully-formed proposal is more likely to succeed. You should own your proposal from inception to implementation, following up as necessary along the way. And you should have data to show that it’s a good idea.

Additionally, women need to be unapologetic about their boundaries. Sharp said she encourages women to simply ask for what they want and not explain or offer excuses. If you need to leave early to pick up your child from school, she said, simply tell your colleagues that you’re leaving at 5 PM that day. Don’t offer a justification; just do what you need to do.

Interested in how technology contributes to a more flexible workplace? Learn how contract automation can make you more mobile.

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