A presence culture is the current barrier to keep women out of the corporate sandbox
One of the many challenges women face in the pursuit of their careers is the widespread existence of a “presence culture” in male-dominated corporate organisations. Here, highly visible long working hours are rewarded and therefore encouraged, as employees feel they have to make themselves available for their employer. The arrival of the smart phone means that this is extended to 24/7 corporate on-call. The presence culture, or its cousin the availability culture, is proving to be an effective barrier to women in a corporate setting.
It’s a “families are for wimps” philosophy.
Research from Harvard Business School Prof. Robin J. Ely, suggests that men in the early stages of their career, feel they need to sacrifice family life to advance their careers. Many women on the other hand are not willing to make that undertaking and either opt out, or take a break, when family decisions become critical. This generally happens women hit the mid 30s mark. She notes that life and career goals in older survey participants were “remarkably aligned” and talked “giving back to society” and raising healthy families.
Over work is counter productive
Overwork is very much gender driven, and intrinsic to many male dominated corporate cultures. Time scarcity seems to have become a corporate and cultural badge of success and an indicator of professional status. Yet this is set against a backdrop of a chronic fall in employee engagement. Reports of a reduction in productivity, decreases in creativity and corresponding increases in days lost because of health issues, are now commonplace.
Ironically there has been another shift. Three decades ago more highly qualified employees were less likely to work longer hours compared to lower paid and less qualified. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that 94% per cent worked 50 hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of 65 hours a week. Attributed to the Boomer work ethics characterizing workplace culture, with their work centric focus on hierarchy, power and prestige, successful people now work longer hours than ever. But this doesn’t explain similar overwork cultures found in Silicon Valley populated by younger men.
So where does this originate?
I have a theory, so please hear me out.
The amateur anthropologist in me believes that, deprived of lions, tigers and bears, the modern young male needs a way to prove his resilience and power, outward signs of maleness and masculinity. Gender based occupational roles became further embedded in agrarian times when upper body strength was important to maintain the food supply. Women were required to produce lots of children for free labour. Revenue generation was also associated with physical strength.
In a 21st century knowledge economy that is no longer necessary. So how are we to show strength and resilience, in an age where the modern up-market cave is 4 bed, 4 baths, and a spear is a smart phone? Long hours and the subsequent success of a linear career, is one way to achieve this. Hours are an easily definable metric, even though they have no relationship with the reality of modern business. Some organizations base their business model on “billable hours” and use them as a tool to measure employee success and financially reward. Pulling all-nighters gives young male careerists, bragging rights.
The reality is today men and women can both use smart phones equally well, but we are still being driven by DNA from previous eras which is no longer necessary in high-tech, knowledge economies
They are losing interest. They don’t want to be them, or like them.
Melinda is a Director in a consulting firm. Her boss she says “must see very little of his family. Even on vacations he is on his Blackberry to the office all the time. He has missed almost every milestone in his children’s lives. That’s not for me.”
In a study from Catalyst, there was compelling research that would indicate that that companies with the highest representation of women in top are better performing. Nevertheless the percentage of women in top leadership roles remains depressingly static and low.
Wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to change corporate thinking and norms?
What has to change is the cultural commitment to overwork imposed on anyone wishing to continue a corporate career. This penalizes anyone who wants to have some sort of family life. It particularly impacts women who leave organizations such as these in their droves, or opt to stay in lower level jobs. HR conferences talk about putting the “humanity back into HR” yet continually fall short. Some businesses compensate for this culture of overwork, by providing corporate mindfulness training, concierge services and even sleeping pods
But the question is, are they band aids which treat only the symptoms, rather than addressing the core cultural malaise? There is a reason the company does your laundry.
Initiatives to chip away at this regressive mind-set seem to be working. Employee engagement is a hot topic. Sweden is introducing 6 hour days to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Goldman Sachs has even reported promoting a record number of women to Managing Director status, which might reflect a further sea change in thinking, as their senior echelons achieve greater gender balance.
What is needed is a corporate culture where men and women can thrive, both in the workplace and outside it. This is one area where gender balanced leadership teams would surely have an impact.