Thursday, 28 October 2010

Sylvia Hewlett on helping women succeed

by WFC Resources

Jobs Vacancy, Employment, Job Vacancies

As women struggle with ever-expanding roles, more than 60% are taking some time off from work, says Sylvia Hewlett, author of Off-Ramps and On-Ramps. But while they're doing so for “pull factors” like time for children (45%) or for elder care (24%), they're also motivated by “push factors” such as unsatisfying work (29%) or feeling stalled in their careers (23%). And “women are much more likely to respond to the pull of family,” Hewlett concludes, “when they feel hemmed in by a glass ceiling.”

The loss of women, often just when they're becoming most valuable, is costly for employers. Turnover is expensive, and demand for talent is ramping up. A survey of 4,000 hiring managers conducted by the Corporate Executive Board found the quality of candidates has declined 10% since 2004, and a third of respondents say new hires are less than satisfactory.

Part of the problem is the proliferation of extreme jobs – those high-stakes, high-rewards positions that never let up. Those jobs reinforce and entrench the male-tailored model of the workplace, says Hewlett, that assumes “lockstep, full-time employment,” a model that fits an ever-shrinking proportion of an increasingly diverse workforce.

The first generation of the women’s revolution focused, she says, on providing a level playing field of access to opportunities, assuming that women would then fill the pipeline and begin to work their way up. But waiting for the pipeline to fill hasn’t worked, says Hewlett. Men still are 98% of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies and 92% of top earners at those companies. The problem, she argues, is not the women. It’s the lockstep linear career model. What we need, says Hewlett, is a “second generation” model of workplace success, with policies that provide alternative pathways for women with nonlinear work lives.

In her new book, she describes a core package of six options that can make a company a second-generational leader, and she offers case studies of companies that are leading the way.

1. Establish a Rich Menu of Flexible Work Arrangements

Work-life options such as reduced hours, flextime, job-sharing, and telecommuting are needed more than ever in a world where “work weeks ratchet up from fifty-five to seventy hours and spheres of responsibility become global.” In second-generation companies, Hewlett says, flexible work arrangements are seen not as an accommodation to women’s family lives, but as a key talent-retention and recruiting strategy. She gives us several examples.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young estimates 82% of its employees use some type of flexibility. Two-thirds say they view that flexibility as a reason for staying at or joining the firm. It's available to everyone, not just women or parents of young children, and the options include flextime, reduced-hour schedules, compressed workweeks, job sharing, telecommuting, and short-term seasonal arrangements. Increased retention has saved the firm at least $10 million annually.

British telecommunications provider BT Group has quantified the results of its "Freedom to Work" initiative. With 75% of all BT employees working flexibly (10% working entirely from home) turnover has dropped to 3%, the average number of sick days per year has fallen to three (compared to the U.K average of eleven), and 99% of employees who take maternity leaves return to work (compared to the U.K. average of 47%). Productivity for home-based workers has risen by as much as 30% per year since 1998. The company saves £5 million a year in turnover costs, £70 million a year in office space costs, and £10 million a year in fuel and other transportation costs. And the reduced travel lowers carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 54,000 tons per year.

Global financial services giant Citigroup set out to create a consistent program focused on retaining and fully realizing talent. It includes a multilingual Website to provide information to Citigroup’s three hundred thousand workers in 100 countries around the world. It offers sample work plans, role models, and success stories. In its first six months the site received 1.3 million hits and in the first year, more than 4,900 employees applied to work flexibly; just 9% of requests were declined. Employees don’t have to provide a reason why they want flexibility, but they do have to provide a work plan for how they will meet their current deliverables on a flexible schedule. Citigroup also provides extensive training globally to help managers become supportive of flexible work and understand its link to business objectives.

2. Create Arc-of-Career Flexibility

Far less common, but just as needed, is the recognition that talented women may need to ramp down and then ramp up again after a stint outside of the paid workforce. At second-generation companies, Hewlett says, “jobs are being unbundled and unpacked, clients are being shared, and work teams are being deployed in ways that allow responsibilities to be handed off seamlessly.”

Booz Allen Hamilton’s Adjunct program, for instance, “unbundles” consulting jobs into “bite-size” chunks that can be done by telecommuters or employees working short stints in the office. Work teams are more collaborative, and full-time and part-time employees are able to hand off assignments to one another. Adjunct workers, the company reports, are contributing equally to profit.

Lehman Brothers’ "Encore" program is designed to recruit women who have left jobs in the financial sector. It targets women who have been out of the workforce for three years or less and who had at least five years of experience before they left. Lehman invites such women (about half former employees and the other half referrals) to events featuring financial sector updates, self-assessment activities, and networking opportunities. After the first Encore event, 98% of the seventy-one attendees expressed an interest in learning more about working at Lehman; twenty eventually joined the firm.

Goldman Sachs has developed a program called "New Directions" to recruit women seeking to return to work full time. The Goldman team invites candidates to a nearly day-long event that features senior managers (both male and female), distinguished speakers, and a panel of Goldman Sachs female executives sharing their on-ramping success stories. Sixty-five women attended the first New Directions event in New York in May 2006. In the following six months, 155 additional women expressed an interest in the program, and the company plans to expand the events to other locations worldwide.

3. Re-imagine Work-Life

Traditional work-life programs have tended to focus on employees who are married with young children. That model only fits half of all women; the rest are single or childless. But even those who don’t have small children have or will have eldercare and extended family responsibilities. Second-generation policies honor and support work-life challenges that go beyond biological children and nuclear families.

In 2003 Citigroup added a new Eldercare Management Services program to the resource and referral services it was already. It offers the company's U.S. employees up to six hours of consultation per year with a trained eldercare specialist who can make on-site visits, assess care options, provide check-in services, assist with insurance and billing issues, and arrange respite care. Citigroup employees are using the program to assist with caring for employees’ elderly parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, and spouses or partners.

Time Warner has expanded the company’s benefits beyond direct dependents. Now the company’s Employee Assistance Program and company scholarship program are available to “reliant individuals” the employee supports, even if they aren’t directly related.

4. Help Women Claim and Sustain Ambition

Many talented women downsize their expectations for themselves, says Hewlett, and an employer can’t promote a woman “if she herself is not enormously invested in this endeavor.” She recommends that companies foster women’s networks and other leadership initiatives to boost women’s confidence and connect them to their peers. Some examples:

Johnson & Johnson’s Women’s Leadership Initiative provides management and leadership training, networking and mentoring activities, and conferences and events around the world.

Time Warner developed a program called "Breakthrough Leadership" in partnership with the Simmons School of Management in Boston. It’s a symposium that includes leadership skills development, peer mentoring, exposure to role models, and interaction with senior leaders at the company.

General Electric’s Women’s Network has 130 chapters worldwide and over forty thousand members. It hosts an annual “Leading & Learning” event for GE women to interact with customers and build business relationships. The Women’s Network is also involved with the company’s recruitment, leadership development, and succession planning initiatives.

5. Harness Altruism

Women derive a different “value proposition” from work than men do, says Hewlett. Her surveys, conducted with the help of the 34 companies on her “Hidden Brain Drain Task Force,” found that while money is important to women, it’s not nearly as important as it is to men. Women tend to rank it below such values as forming relationships with high-quality colleagues, believing in the products and services their companies provide, and giving back to their communities (both the corporate community and the wider society).

Companies are responding. Goldman Sachs offers a variety of opportunities for community service that include "Community TeamWorks," an annual volunteering day with company-provided transportation, meals, and t-shirts; a mentoring program for inner-city children; opportunities to serve on non-profit boards; and matching gifts to charities that employees support. Goldman Sachs sees community involvement as both a leadership development tool and a means to recruit and retain key talent.

Cisco Systems loans employees to nonprofits for a year at a time through its Leadership Fellows Program. Program participants remain Cisco employees and receive full salary and benefits. Their fellowship work is included in performance reviews, and each fellowship is expected to accomplish something tangible at the nonprofit, to “leave something behind.”

American Express offers a paid sabbatical program of up to six months for employees who work for a nonprofit of their choice. Returning employees are then celebrated in the company’s internal communications. Amex has loaned more than 190 employees to nonprofits through this program.

6. Reduce Stigma and Stereotypes

Hewlett’s focus groups found that women frequently quit their jobs rather than take advantage of flexible work arrangements that were on the books, but that, as one executive put it, “label you as some kind of loser.” One way to reduce stigma is to position flexibility as a means to achieve strategic objectives. For instance, Lehman Brothers’ Virtual Workplace technology for working outside of the office is a key component of its disaster preparedness strategy.

Cisco combats stereotyping with "Microinequities" workshops to help people recognize and eliminate subtle behaviors and messages that devalue other people. Respectful behaviors are reinforced with a quarterly "Courageous Observer" award for an employee who has stood up to or pointed out a microinequity. “You want to catch people doing it right,” explains senior VP George O’Meara. “That’s what the award is about.”

Ernst & Young programs include the Women’s Leadership Conference at the national level, Professional Women’s Networks at the local level, the "Career Watch" mentoring program, and "People Point," a Web-based rating tool through which employees can provide anonymous feedback to managers – ratings that become part of the performance evaluation process.

Flexible options become credible, says Hewlett, only when they are modeled from the top. Niall FitzGerald, chairman of Reuters and former chairman of Unilever, telecommutes on Fridays and bans early-morning meetings so he can have breakfast with his five-year-old daughter. He told Hewlett, “Flaunting my flexible work arrangement is one of the most important things I can do. It starts to change the culture.”

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