Having recently come into the scholarly work of CV Harquail Ph.D, (@cvharquail) a leading voice on Organizational Leadership at AuthenticOrganizations.com, I’ve been watching, reading and stretching my mind on many fronts – including the topic of women-at-work. A few days ago she pointed me to Fem 2.0 where a “blog carnival” is taking place posing the question, “what is considered gainful employment” in the 21st century.
Thoughts flooded my brain when I considered what constitutes gainful employment for women. First thought best thought. It is the individual’s business to discern what constitutes work or what I prefer to term – vocation – in our 24/7 world for anyone; male or female.
To me, gainful employment means right livelihood; working with purpose, passion and profit on a meaningful career trajectory guided by ones own unique skills, desires and voice. It’s not an easy task in a time when career expansion can fall victim to the reality of having to stay in a job you hate – to pay the bills. Thus, more than ever, there is a desperate need for the woman’s voice now, to tackle work life concerns and traditional stereotypes of the 9-5 job structure, if only to make it more bearable.
I’m not going to make a blanket statement saying that our voices have been irrevocably quelled by fear in this lousy economy – but some have. With soaring unemployment, the largest percentage of layoffs impacting men, and the tightening job market – keeping a job seems to have become paramount for women – depending on which news article you’re reading.
Work/Life flexibility is embraced by progressive companies which understand that their current labor pool is dwindling (both male and female) and that they need to attract more female workers who now make up 46 % of the workforce. But a flexible working model is not always seen as the Great White Knight, which with its sword, can tear down walls of gender bias toward better attraction and retention of skilled employees. Flexibility is instead feared by some as a killer of face time, a signal of less interest in ones work or the threatening anti-christ to the almighty dollar.
Thrust into the work life balance debate, women forge ahead on-line and in the media pushing for more flexible working arrangements, better maternity leave, and changes in the Family Leave Act. But when we walk through the doors of big business (and again, not everywhere) there’s the perception that a voice that dares speak up might fall on deaf ears – or worse – end up with a pink slip. This perception needs to be slayed, but it will take both sexes to open up the conversation in the workplace.
Just a few days ago I wrote about the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce in my post, Work Life Gender Gap Narrows. The study found that the work/life conflict men were experiencing had increased more so, over a period of time, then for the women surveyed (women were already feeling a high level of conflict). The results were not surprising given the fact that men are taking on more of the household and childcare duties than in past years, in dual-earner couples.
Perhaps the equalizing of work life conflict will level the playing field for men and women striving for better work life integration. Perhaps, the deaf ear will be more receptive to a woman’s voice demanding to be heard, as it might have had to listen to a crying child the night before.