A common barrier I hear when working with organizations who are trying to increase females in the leadership pipeline is lack of flexibility in the workplace. Women don’t feel that their roles, the working hours, or the culture of face time will allow them to juggle the joint demands of work and family. But one unlikely organization may change all this.
British Intelligence Agencies have an aggressive plan to recruit more middle-aged moms with a campaign dubbed Jane Bond. Whether you’re a Bourne fan or an Alias fan, popular shows would make us believe that the job of a spy is the least flexible job there could be. The agencies have realized, however, that emotional intelligence is an extremely valuable and much needed asset and they are keen to demonstrate to females the family-friendly nature of working as a spy.
When I first read this article in the Telegraph I laughed at the absurdity of this proposition. But when the silliness wore off, I found myself feeling angry. Why can’t this be possible? If M15 can figure it out, what is everyone else’s excuse?
When it comes to excuses, this is what I hear most often when the topic of flexible work arrangements comes up:
- Our customers just wouldn’t allow it – they expect immediate turn around
- The job can’t be done part-time
- Our hours of work are set
- We’re a relationship based organization and people need to have face time
If an agency that is responsible for protecting the UK’s people, economy and interests by navigating risks to national security, military effectiveness and the economy, working across the globe to counter terrorism, resolve international conflict and prevent the spread of nuclear and other non-conventional weapons can attempt this, then really, what’s your excuse? We have to try harder.
We have to try harder because the organizations that figure this out will attract and retain the best talent. Many organizations are of course making headway on flex policies; some in earnest and some to check the box on diversity initiatives. However having the policy, and having the culture to actually use the policy, are two different things. What I hear most often from aspiring female leaders is that their managers and their workgroup make it very clear that actually taking advantage of those policies would be career suicide. You do so at your own peril.
I guarantee that great talent is walking out your door because of real or perceived issues of flexibility. In fact, the worry this causes for women begins way sooner than you know. For some women it begins when they are young and single and not even ready to have a family. They assess whether they want to join or remain with you. It continues when they consider when and how to tell their boss they are pregnant. It remains when they’re on leave and deciding when, how and if to return to work. Women with children are continually evaluating whether your workplace is where they can continue to add their value - where they want to add their value. And you are losing talent and future leaders as a result.
Women are leaving the traditional organization of today in droves. Many are choosing the path of entrepreneurship or joining more forward thinking organizations. And now, who knows, some may even become spies.
About the Author
Tammy Heermann is Senior Vice President of Strategic Solutions with Lee Hecht Harrison. Tammy combines her expertise in leadership development with her international working experience to build leadership capacity and culture in organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Tammy Heermann