In the summer of 2013, while organizing an internal event on diversity, I had the privilege to meet one of the founders of Teilzeitmann (part-time for men), Andy Keel.
His project felt new and refreshing and started with a very simple question: why can`t men make part-time work? Accordingly to research, more than 90% of the part-time requests from the male-work force are turned down. Thankfully times are changing and a few things are moving. Teilzeitkarriere.com for one advertises more than 14.000 flex/part time jobs and has more than 2 million views annually.
Andy stood on stage that day to tell us how it all began, how he had felt the pressure of work commitments clashing against family and life commitments, and how he decided to ask for part time to his company and after that decided to free-lance in his quest to achieve a better life balance, a deeper flexibility that would allow him to take care of his children. His speech was inspiring and you could see it did touch a nerve for the men and women in the room. Why can`t a father maintain his status and responsibility at work and choose to work a few hours less to spend more time with his children? His advice has stayed with me since that summer, it was simple: whatever you decide to do in life, follow your guts and your passions and if you feel something is not right, do not conform and follow, stand up, speak, ask.
I interviewed again Andy a few weeks ago, while finalizing the "Own the way you live" project.
M. Andy, how did the project `Teilzeitmann` start?
A. I’ve founded Teilzeitmann because part time is not only a female topic… we need to start working as a family team where man and woman – both – are taking the responsibility to earn money and take care of the children at the same time. Teilzeitmann is working with different role models…. In order to show positive examples of how a more balanced division of responsibilities could work.
M. Do you feel the attitude towards part-time and flexible work has changed in the past few years? Companies seem to have fairly flexible policies in place but the bottleneck they face seems to be on the one hand the final approval of line managers - some seem to be very traditionally attached to a `face time` culture, on the other, the fear of stigmas.
How do you think we can raise awareness on the need for a more flexible approach to work, tailored to the individual?
A. The bottleneck are clearly and without any doubt the middle and top management of companies. …as long as we behave and believe in these old fashioned views on hard working career – full time presence and kind of military behaviour, not much will change. But there are new positive examples out there … flexible working models and empowerment of staff are the two most important topics at the moment and we are contributing to raise awareness on them.
Read more about Andy`s project and company here.
Only this week, the press showcased two examples of men, both in leading positions, deciding to `lean out`.
“Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.
I realized that the only way to balance fatherhood and my job was to step back from the role as head of my company" says Max Schireson, CEO, MONGODB INC. (Full story here).
And again this week: Google CFO retires with a candid memo about work/life balance.
“After nearly seven years as CFO, I will be retiring from Google to spend more time with my family."
“That's how Patrick Pichette, one of Google's highest-ranking executives, led his announcement on Tuesday that he'd be retiring from his role at the company. That line of reasoning has become something of a safe cliché among notable executives leaving their posts. But then Pichette did something unusual: He kept going, offering a candid explanation about the struggles of work/life balance at his level.” (Full story here )
So where do these two announcements leave us? From talks I have had in the past few years with men and women, friends and colleagues from different countries and different industries, parents and non parents, I have sensed the same message: we all want to strike a better life balance, at the same time we do not want our careers to suffer.
Recently the HR head of an international company, during an event on the benefits of flexible working, told his audience that 30 years ago, when he started his job he was told he had been chosen for a successful career, but if he wanted it, in short, he had to forget about his private life and family time, they needed 200% commitment from him. He went for it. “25 years later, my 28 year old told me he was sorry but he could not cancel those few lined up dinners with friends to join me for dinner: `Why would I, you were never there for us when we asked`. He didn`t mean it probably that way as we have an amazing relationship, but that hurt more than I ever thought it could.”
As Mr. Pichette`s wife put it, "So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time?”