Increasingly we have seen media coverage on initiatives celebrating the strength of women, the resilience of mothers, the importance of time off for fathers and the importance of a healthy life balance to better perform, and to achieve an "integrated" work life equation.
At last! We have come a long way from the previous generation, from the previous decade and actually, from 18 months ago, come to think of it. 2015 has been a very important year for topics related to diversity, gender equality and health versus productivity.
In 2015 HBR's ranking of CEOs has for the first time considered how companies score not only on the hard numbers, but also on "soft" facts (ESG performance) "In the past, our ranking was based exclusively on hard stock market numbers. We looked at total shareholder return, as well as the change in each company’s market capitalization. We liked the fact that the ranking was based solidly on data and not on reputation or anecdote. Yet it also felt incomplete, because it failed to account for the many aspects of leadership that go beyond mere market performance. And so this year we’ve tweaked things. We’ve added to the mix a measurement of each company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance."
We have seen many financial institutions jumping into the growing trend of socially responsible investing and best of all State Street launching a diversity gender balanced fund , which will track an index comprising companies that do a great job at advancing women through gender diversity on their boards of directors and in management in general. We have seen extensive research that shows that companies with gender-diverse leadership tend to outperform long-term companies that don’t so I am surprised these funds are only starting to emerge.
Bloomberg has set up a new team of journalists and analysts covering the topic diversity.
The ex Norway Prime Minister was interviewed and asked about the reasons behind the success of her country (beyond the obvious oil related wealth) as in the 80s Norway was nowhere close to where it is now, its economy weak and common people barely able to afford decent living. "Success comes from the fact that you see fathers pushing strollers at 3 pm on a working day" she said. "What has changed in these 30 years are family politics and work culture. Retaining talented women in the workforce, giving family benefits and allowing fathers to be fathers and workers without stigma. Shorter working days and flexible working, which results into creative and flexible thinking".
There is McKinsey research on how and why "Women matter" and the latest Mercer report "When women thrive businesses thrive" being presented at the WEF last week and discussed by the CEOs of Cisco, eBay, Marriot and the president of UBS Wealth Management, Jürg Zeltner: "One other thing we all found common ground on was retaining talented women. They leave the workforce after you’ve invested and trained them as many find that workplaces are not family-friendly. Our challenge is to keep them and make the workplace flexible and supportive of their needs and priorities."
So there is all the progress being made just cited above, the daily strong commitment of many of us to raise awareness on the challenges women face and to bring positive change in the world. All of it is still probably only a drop in the ocean but change is happening out there.
Then there is me, and I know that like me many other women and working mothers at times have a similar behaviour.
Rewind of two weeks, Monday 11 January, 6am. My husband and I are getting ready for work, kids still – thankfully – asleep. My phone rings. Terror (not quite, but close...). Our current Monday babysitter's little child is sick so she won't be able to come today. And it is of course no problem, it happens. However, a well known feeling that I merrily refer to as "the cold –spine" starts taking over. We quickly and frantically go through our blackberries, our plan in these cases is to take half day off each to look after whichever child is at home, aim is to cancel the half day which would result in the lower damage for the rest of the week. We decide that I stay at home in the morning with our 9 months old baby, dialling in for a couple of meetings, and my husband stays at home in the afternoon, also dialling in when he needs. I let my boss know, who very nicely and empathically confirms it is no problem at all (she has been there too). I tell my colleagues and team. On we go with the plan. At 11 am my baby is happily playing on his mat babbling away while I dial in for an internal meeting. I dial in and immediately go on mute. I barely comment and step in only quickly for fear that someone might hear my baby gurgling cheerfully in the background. Why did I do that? Even if anyone heard the baby chuckle, so what? They all knew where I was and why. I am not that junior or young any more or shy or lacking self confidence. So why did I try and hide the fact that as a working mum this too can be part of my life and it is really no big deal, in fact, hat off really for pushing through and balancing it all??!
Fast-forward to 4pm. The above nearly forgotten and not even yet properly processed. I have now been in the office for a couple of hours and my husband at home for 2 hours and taken as well a (video) call. I call him asking how the afternoon is going. "Oh great actually! Baby M. was sitting on my lap during my call, they loved him and he behaved really well."
No need to comment, I think these two episodes speak for themselves. Perhaps I will add that I am proud of how my husband handled the situation and a little less proud of how I did not stand up to my ideals.
So here is my lesson learnt and a better version of myself has come out of it.
Change, real change, starts from us and from how we expect the world to view us. We all have a lot more responsibility and impact on driving change than we often think.