The other day over lunch I happened to discuss one of my favourite topics with a (male) colleague, dad of (almost) two: the benefits of flexible working for working parents who are trying to score a decent work life balance. The illuminating simple truth that came out of our conversation made me think there is only one way to move ahead in the workplace: be bold and fear little when it comes to your rights to work well and live a life in balance. Similarly there is only one way for employers to retain talents: be flexible and follow the changing winds.
Rewind of 3 years. A cold autumn morning, my mother-in-law was in charge of bringing our baby to nursery school. Husband and I early at work. By 8.30 I had finished my first meeting, grandma had left the house. And burglars had come in. We had been spied on. Someone out there knew exactly in which thirty minutes the apartment was going to be empty.
Thirty minutes later the police was at home, I was making my way to a nightmare situation, had cancelled my morning meetings, husband was calling our insurance and we were breathing deep.
Coming home to our belongings all over the floor and broken down entrance door was a pretty shocking experience.
But even more shocking was talking about the episode with my then 'line manager'.
We are not talking about a job that required physical presence at all costs, nor about the technology challenges that people needing to work remotely faced 20 years ago with internet connections and the likes. This is wealthy Switzerland, a large corporation with sophisticated technology and generous policies for its employees to work remotely, this was a fairly sophisticated job that required concentration and skills to design complex investment structures. I was no life saving surgeon.
This was a private emergency and a request to work remotely for one day by an employee who had just had a terrible experience with crime and whose apartment had no functioning front door left. A 'talent pool' employee who used to be in the office about 340 days out of 360 a year and work flat when needed.
This was me, a hard working new mum, asking my then (male, childless, with no experience in leading people) line manager to work remotely the day after the burglary so I could wait for the locksmith to come and repair our front door.
The answer that came was roughly the following 'in our department we do not wish for employees to work remotely and if a home office day is needed this needs to be scheduled well in advance and justified'.
How unfortunate that I could not plan in advance to be the victim of a burglary or that I did not have thieves numbers on speed dial to plan ahead.
As a head of department myself for many years in London, I would have never dreamt of giving such an answer. Sure, I have never been an all sugary sweet manager, far from it, lack of commitment is on my black list, but my empathy level has always been high, especially for the hard working crowds. And since becoming a parent I would not dream of denying a home office day to anyone who scores high on productivity, in fact, I applaude flexible working in the name of increased retention and growth.
However back then, only just over 3 years ago, home office and flexible working were not really a reality in some areas of large corporations and corporate dinosaurs' bad behaviour in the workplace was not yet very often called out on. This is the core of the attitude that has made so difficult for women and mothers to grow and excel in the financial services and banking industries. As a result the lack of women in senior positions is horribly high. Thankfully for me and for organisations all over the world, things are changing.
Fast forward of 3 years, days have come in which men, fathers or not, are finally speaking up and demanding to work flexibly, to be hands-on fathers, to fit their life as fathers in their careers.
In turn mothers are becoming bolder and more vocal about what they have always asked employers, about their need for a flexible work environment that allows for a decent work life balance. Ultimately increased productivity and talent retention are the key benefits for companies.
Men are in. And magically, change is happening.