Earlier this year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg set off a renewed debate on an old question: Why aren’t more women in executive positions? The answer you get depends on whom you ask. Some say it’s outright discrimination, while others argue that it’s an aggressive, inflexible culture that limits women’s advancement or drives them to opt out.
Who is the CEO?
For anyone who questions that there is a problem, the evidence is quite clear. While research shows a correlation between a company’s financial performance and the number of women in its governing body, women held just 14.4 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies in 2010.
More than a quarter of companies had no women in an executive officer position. And 48 percent of Fortune 1000 companies had one or no women on their boards in 2012.
As an entrepreneur and business owner for 30 years, I know firsthand many of the challenges that women face in the workplace. One of the most pervasive issues is this: a deeply entrenched belief that productivity and effectiveness are defined by the number of hours you spend at the office.
Any executive today knows that working at least 60 hours a week is standard. While technology has simplified our lives in many ways, it has also complicated it. We’re now expected to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to respond to requests at any hour of the day or night.
At most companies, the rewards go to those who are willing to put work above everything else, and to do it over the long haul. Those expectations are coupled with a complex and ever-changing global environment that make us — women and men — more fearful and stressed out than ever before.
With that kind of prevailing climate in many companies, it’s no surprise that people looking for a sense of equilibrium choose to leave.
Gender representation needs
Until productivity and effectiveness are redefined to allow and encourage contributions of varying levels, we’ll never achieve fair gender representation. Even worse yet, we’ll never get the best we can from each person. We need to redefine successful leaders not as those who work through the night, but as those who are empathic and balanced, those who cultivate productive and healthy people and work environments.
Eventually companies will have to heed the call to re-examine their work cultures, asking themselves hard questions about who is best served by maintaining the status quo. Finding a balance between work and life is gaining increasing importance and can’t be ignored.
Find the right balance
In a global study conducted this year by LinkedIn, entitled “What Women Want @Work,” 63 percent of respondents defined success at work as “finding the right balance between work and personal life.” To the question, “Would you like a more flexible work environment,” 65 percent answered that flexible working would better enable them to manage career and family.
If you’re wondering how to get started, open-mindedness and creativity are essential. You have to be willing to throw out the old to bring in the new. That means a willingness to redefine roles and responsibilities, focusing on what needs to get done rather than how it gets done.
People don’t need to work overtime or full time to be productive, and responsibilities can be divided in innumerable ways.
We must begin by deeply examining our prevailing notions of work and being willing to consider that people can be more productive and effective if we create more flexible, empathic work environments. Only then will we create truly productive, efficient, profitable businesses that add value to the well-being of individuals, families and communities.
Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at [email protected]