By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Resource Center
Are you ready to rethink your notion of how to maximize employee engagement and employee motivation? Is your notion of work life balance mired in the past? What about gender dynamics -- are you certain that you’re cultivating female workers as much as your male employees?
Given these volatile times, there’s no better time for employers to ask themselves these hard questions.
So says Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell, Ph.D, author of the book, Career GPS: Strategies for Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape (Amistad) and founder and president of ASCENT-Leading Multicultural Women to the Top.
As associate professor of business administration at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University, Bell confronts the reality that many working women still find at work. She also sees companies missing out on innovation by not cultivating their company’s culture.
MONSTER: Are women helping change the way companies think about work-life balance?
ELLA EDMONDSON BELL: Companies need to start thinking about work in a different way -- it’s about how we design work. It’s becoming more about the cultures and rituals around work and no longer just about a work-life policy or a mommy track.
Many male employees also want to spend time with their children. More and more workers have aging parent, children or health issues. To frame work life balance as a “female thing” is no longer appropriate.
Companies can be smart about how they balance work-life priorities and the workload. For instance, the first quarter of the year is peak season in the tax accounting industry. That’s the time when accountants need to be available to work long hours. After May 1st, the balance changes, and so can the expectations put on those workers.
The country is extremely overworked. We need national policies to think about this across the generational span. Let’s have some conversations. Those discussions are not a matter of being a good citizen -- it’s about our country’s future and competitive edge. Do we want to fall behind in terms of productivity? We have to fast forward our thinking around issues related to advancing work-life balance and advancing women, as well as women and men of color.
MONSTER: How can employers better utilize the skills and resources that women bring to the workplace?
ELLA EDMONDSON BELL: Companies often reach out to women but, don’t think about policies, management and work life issues -- particularly around mentoring. Women need to be advanced on the same level as their male employers.
Much of this is in the informal network, where the power is often kept. Women (particularly women of color) are often excluded from this network. Often senior-level male managers (senior/mid level manager) invite employees to their home. The guys are invited -- but women are excluded. The men are getting to know each other -- but not the women. Managers should be encouraged to have informal activities with their women staff.
Also, managers should keep in mind that women need honest feedback. Often managers are nervous about giving this feedback, so they have someone else do it for them. It could be about something as mundane as how to dress – or it could be feedback on presentation skills or project management skills -- the day to day information. Men are often not used to talking to women.
Male employees get the feedback and get the extra chances. Women often don’t get the extra chance. Consequently women end up wasting their time and the company’s time.
I recommend providing constructive and critical feedback. It’s good management 101. Mid-level managers need to do this sort of thing with all their employees to avoid any sense of partiality among their reports.
MONSTER: Do female managers tend to be more supportive than their male counterparts?
ELLA EDMONDSON BELL: In the women leadership sessions that I lead at Tuck, I ask the class, “How many prefer to be managed by men?” The hands go up. Then I ask, “How many have had great women managers and prefer them?” No hands go up.
When we talk about it, the women say how senior women managers are harder on them. They often make them go through rings. Women need to learn to be allies, particularly across generations. I’m not sure if younger women know how to develop relationships with older ones. The same is true for senior women helping to develop younger female workers.
Many companies have female affinity groups. General Electric has a good one that’s international. It provides women throughout the pipeline a chance to participate and network with each other.
MONSTER: What advice do you have for companies in general?
ELLA EDMONDSON BELL: I encourage companies to start thinking about their company culture -- the everyday behavior that we do in any organization -- familial and otherwise.
Ask yourself, do I have a company culture that allows people to be authentic? A place where people are encouraged, appreciated? Do you have a culture that allows the “soft skills” in -- from both men and women? Now is the time to focus on those cultural values.
People often get punished for their authenticity. Many workplaces promulgate alienation -- an “I will get you back” punitive culture. It doesn’t allow for trust. And the impact on business is deadly.
You want people to be good at what they do and to be competitive. It’s not a matter of singing “kumbaya” to have people feel respected. If your workers -- male or female -- are not living up to your expectation, then have an honest conversation with them. Don’t collect dead wood. Developing people is your best asset.
Corporations are going to have to start thinking a little smarter about how to develop their talent pool. All parts of it will be their backbone. The problem is too diverse -- and they need to start responding to it now. It’s time to put some energy and resources into moving this reality in a different direction.