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Please help re: a project regarding women in senior roles

(20 Posts)
designerbaby Wed 28-Nov-12 10:55:20

IABU. Getting you all to do my work for me, and blatantly positing here for traffic (given recent threads aout neglected children) and a no-hold-barred response.

But as I am a working mother of two neglected children, maybe you'll do it for them, so I don't have to leave them in childcare all night as well as all day or shut them in the cupboard under the stairs again.

I'm currently helping a colleague with an employer brand project he's working for. It's a large, well known .com business which has an issue with a lack of women in senior management roles. A significant one, as there are literally only a very few – which is not representative of the organisation as a whole.

My question is, what can a company do, in your opinion, to attract and retain senior women? What can they do to make themselves attractive to working mothers in particular (they have a HUGE drop off of women choosing not to come back after Mat leave, for example) and how might they communicate that effectively?

The understand it's partly about flexibility, but it's more than that, surely...

And I'm hardly in an expert position, having left my senior position in a consultancy and set up my own business, partly because I couldn't make it work for me or my family...

Any thoughts/experiences please?

Many thanks,

Differentangle Wed 28-Nov-12 11:21:22

I think there are a number of things -

the culture/attitude is hugely important. Having said that - defining culture and changing it can be extremely difficult

I find working in teams works enormously - i.e. I have a person who is reasonably senior working with me on things and can respond if I am not there.

location - I think this can make a big difference. If you can get home in 15 mins, this can make a big difference to the way that you view life after children

Development of people and investment in their careers

Role models?

slug Wed 28-Nov-12 11:55:18

Partly it's about inflexibility. Partly it's about the long hours culture. But, in my experience at least (though I'm not particularly senior) it's about the culture of the work environment before you are even pregnant.

My decision to quit the job I had before I was pregnant (I hung on for a while after coming back from maternity leave) had as much to do with the drip drip of insidious sexism and the acknowledgement that women, even though lip service was paid to equality, were never going to be promoted. It's not the big things, it's the little things. Like:

The kitchen/tea room being seen as the responsibility of the female staff to keep clean. I never saw a man empty the dishwasher for example.

Sexist 'jokes' that went unchallenged or were expected to be treated as 'banter'. e.g. the inevitable comment about liking to see a woman on her knees every time I climbed under desks to fiddle with some cables. Not to mention the 'hormone' joke or rolled eyes if a woman gets angry.

The favoritism given to men. I don't know why they don't realise that we notice when male colleagues are given more training opportunities, promoted quicker and leave work early without comment. And let's not forget the number of times my suggestions were noted only after they came out of a man's mouth or the assumption that the woman in a meeting always takes the notes.

The different dress codes. I'm in the upper echelons of middle management. In meetings, especially amongst us techie types, the difference between what is acceptable for a man and what is acceptable for a woman is glaring. The men can get away with neat jeans an T shirts but that if frowned upon in the women. Without exception the women are expected to be groomed in a way men aren't.

The belief that presence = commitment. I leave at 5pm on the dot every day. This is not because I lack commitment but because I am efficient. I don't spend my time farting about on facebook and playing games in time wasting tasks. (she says's posting from work, though in my defense, I'm on my phone waiting for a person to turn up for a meeting). Like many of my female colleagues I'm in work reasonably early and, by the time many of my male colleagues appear, have put in some seriously efficient quiet work time where much gets done. But inevitably, the early starts aren't noticed but the prompt leaving is.

I guess, like many women I took time during maternity leave to take stock. I saw an environment where young, poorly qualified and inexperienced men were promoted over efficient capable women. I saw these women having to manage their bosses and tidy up after their mistakes. I saw the glass ceiling. I wondered if I really wanted to work for a company that clearly didn't value me or my gender but were prepared to exploit us none the less. I could see any woman who had been promoted forced to conform to the company culture and laugh along with the jokes while keeping the women down. So I thought, like so many others, it's simply not worth it. I went somewhere else.

Ellypoo Wed 28-Nov-12 13:13:40

Slug has some very good points above. I think a major culture shift needs to occur before women get the same chances and treatment as men, both in the home and at work. Women are seen as the primary care givers, generally, and they tend to be the first ones to have to take time off work to look after sick kids for example.

An organisation needs to be family friendly and to not hold it against parents who genuinely need to look after their families.

I think also that part time workers shouldn't be sidelined - my DSis returned to work half time and is constantly held back from interesting projects, instead having to work on less interesting, mundane projects, while less qualified and experienced but full time staff get the interesting opportunities.

NuclearStandoff Wed 28-Nov-12 13:41:24

Working culture hugely important. Not arranging meetings late in the day (women may have to leave early to do school run) or expecting too much out-of-hours socialising.
The company I have just left expected its employees to go on a weekend camping trip in the summer for fun!! Even though children were welcomed, we do actually have better ways of spending our family time.
Respecting the value and experience of part-timers equally. Most of whom work twice as hard as full-timers.
Not allowing meetings to drag on - I have really noticed that men like to talk on and on at meetings for the sake of it - and then end up staying until 7 to catch up, or doing emails late at night. I honestly do think that older, senior women are much more efficient in their working style.
I agree with a lot of what Slug says.
I have just left a company which was founded by a woman, who was also its CEO - and yet it completely failed to value any of the senior women who worked there, consistently promoting younger and inexperienced men, with no management skills, over their female colleagues.
They seemed to think that giving women time off for school plays was enough.

ClareMarriott Wed 28-Nov-12 16:16:17

Yes I absolutely agree with what Slug has said and would add that women should be paid the same as a man ( and with the same perks ) for doing the same job.

notcitrus Wed 28-Nov-12 16:47:43

Everything Slug said. I think most women know if they want to go back to their employer before they go on maternity leave, and the real culture, not just what is written in the employee handbook, is the main determinant of that.

Ditch presenteeism. Challenge managers to create interesting part time roles. Make it clear that it's a management failing if staff are working long hours or don't want to return after mat leave. Don't reward toadies or the loudest voices.
Ideally ask the women who don't return, at an exit interview, why they didn't want to return, but I bet they say the same as Slug.

kernowgal Wed 28-Nov-12 22:16:30

Agree wholeheartedly with slug. I have to say it is both depressing and reassuring that it's not just my industry (horticulture) that has this problem. It's not just us female gardeners getting the shitty sexist remarks (we too get the woman on her knees comment, usually from male visitors who we've never met before, and many more besides - "while you're down there love" [shoves crotch in female gardener's face] angry). From my previous jobs I know it doesn't have to be like this in horticulture but it really is a male-dominated industry and a lot of men in senior positions struggle to deal with women who are just as physically capable as them and often better at managing too!

I'm leaving my job for many reasons but not least is the feeling that I am not getting half the opportunities my male colleagues are; indeed having raised several issues I now get the impression that my manager thinks I'm a pain in the arse and therefore should be overlooked.

mycatlikestwiglets Thu 29-Nov-12 10:42:08

As a senior female lawyer who went back to work full time earlier this year after mat leave I would say the issues I have encountered and which really get my blood boiling are:

1. The questioning of my commitment. In my view a woman returning from mat leave should be seen as being extra committed given the inherent difficulty of leaving behind a small child. The fact that I now have a child should not immediately result in the assumption that I am no longer committed to my career, because the opposite is true.

2. Presenteeism. It should be understood and accepted that being present does not always mean being more efficient and/or hard working. Working away from the office should not be viewed any differently from working in the office (and again, should not be viewed as showing less commitment to the job).

3. Integration. When returning from maternity leave, you want to feel like nothing has changed. It's enormously important to get into work so you can show yourself and others that you haven't lost your ability simply as a result of having a child. I think employers can be far more supportive in making sure the return to work is well supported and work is allocated fairly.

4. Open and honest feedback and continued career progression. I do not appreciate being mummy tracked simply because I've had a baby!

Obviously all the flexibility points others have made above too.

designerbaby Thu 29-Nov-12 11:51:53

Thank you all.

Mummy-tracked... sad. A situation I'm familiar with...

Although a very different working environment to yours, mycat, it's interesting how many of the same attitudes are prevalent, even in widely different sectors.

And yes, culture v.v. important. Because there is what is publicised and written in company handbooks and such. And then there is the reality of the workplace and the things which are said "off the cuff" and "as a joke" etc. which can undermine and counteract that at a stroke.

This is all really helpful, and very interesting on a personal as well as a professional level.


GrendelsMum Thu 29-Nov-12 18:58:00

I'm trying to think of the right way to put this, because I think that if we just talk about the needs of mothers, we're putting the problem too narrowly.

I think that companies need to promote an ethos that both men and women have a range of commitments and responsibilities in their lives - and that not only should senior managers be encouraged to think about this, but that so should all employees. The commmitments might be to children, or to parents, or to spouses, or to voluntary organisations, or just to someone's right to have spare time outside work, and they may or may not be something that someone wants to make publicly known to their colleagues.

TBH, at the moment DH and I (without children) feel that we're seen as the 'back ups' for colleagues with children, to the extent that it's starting to affect DH's health - but how can you tell a colleague that you won't work the extra hours to allow him to spend time with a child in hospital?

FuckingWonderwoman Fri 30-Nov-12 08:15:45

GrendelsMum - take away the "child" element and imagine it was your DH or a parent in hospital. Is your colleague taking the time off as annual leave? If so, I think you just need to suck it up. As someone with a chronically ill child (asthmatic), I have always factored in a week of annual leave when planning holidays to allow time off with her when she ends up in hospital. Yes, this can come at inconvenient times (if it's that critical, then DH will take the leave), but let's face it, no-one's indispensable in the office.

Yes to presenteeism. I also think that women tend just to get on with things and don't shout "look at me! look what I'm doing!" all the time, and just get on with the job, unlike most men.

I've also found there is now a prevailing culture (and I've heard it said) that "it's lovely to see such a hands-on Dad" (when he slips out to see his son's nativity play) but "working mothers are a pain in the arse" (when a mother did the same). I found out that my (male) colleague was allowed to "just slip out of the office for a couple of hours" to do this, whereas I was made to take half a day's leave. I did challenge this, and was allowed to do the same as him, but it didn't help the office atmosphere. Oh and my boss? Female, single and childless. She has since married and had children and promptly went part time, as she "couldn't cope" with working full time (and by all accounts became an utter, unreliable pain in the arse, as she would ring in and say she wouldn't be in that day as she was "a bit tired as little Jimmy has been teething."

GrendelsMum Fri 30-Nov-12 08:33:17

Thanks for the viewpoint, FuckingWonderwoman! I totally appreciate what you're saying and how you've managed it, it's inclining me to think perhaps the colleague is Being Unreasonable in his request and that the process needs to be managed better. Unfortunately I'd say the people involved are at a level where they are indispensable - if person A doesn't do the work then my DH has to sad.

By coincidence, I was going to say that I think women don't make enough of their achievements - and that this isn't necessarily something to be proud of. Perhaps we do need to take more regular stock of our contribution to the business / organisation and to make sure that this is valued by those around us and senior to us.

mycatlikestwiglets Fri 30-Nov-12 09:48:29

I think you make a valid point GrendelsMum, and flexibility etc shouldn't just be restricted to mothers but should available to anyone who wants it for any reason. That said, the reality of juggling work and children is clearly a major issue for women so it's understandable that focus is on that area.

Imo a change in culture at businesses to accept that men want to be involved in childcare would really help women's position. I may be outing myself here but DH took a couple of months off as an unpaid "sabbatical" when I went back to work, so that he could look after our DS and really get to know him. It was unheard of for a man to ask for leave in that way, but so many people told him how impressed they were that he did it and how much they would have liked to do something similar. Arrangements like that should be promoted so that men feel able to take them up.

helpyourself Fri 30-Nov-12 10:01:57

Zero tolerance of sexist banter and women unfriendly venues, women making tea and doing kitchen stuff. Presenteeism seen for what it is- inefficiency. More use of conference calls and emails rather than face to face at unsociable hours. I'm not in senior management but have done my bit this week by suggesting my v senior DH organises the secret santa- he was looking forward to it hmm and wondering which female secretary would take it on!

FuckingWonderwoman Fri 30-Nov-12 17:33:15

I agree that flexibility should be available to everyone, and that working flexibly shouldn't impact on others in the office. The other three senior managers in my office all work from home on a Friday. I can't as "someone needs to be in the office". I have refused to cover any meetings which fall due on a Friday and have argued that they need to change their working from home day if a meeting is scheduled. Unfortunately, I am seen as the unreasonable one here.

If you feel that your DH's colleague is taking the piss, GrendelsMum, I would say that he probably is. His boss needs to sit down with him, and ask how he intends to manage this leave - is he taking annual leave? Can he make up the hours? Split the work differently within the team? DH and I used to take shifts to stay with DD1 and look after DD2.

becstargazeypie Fri 30-Nov-12 17:56:01

My company is mostly good for this - four women on a board of directors which numbers about ten (more or less). I manage a team of six people, and have a male PA to make my tea and field my calls, which my Mum is totally baffled by.- asked when he'll 'finish his training' and become senior to me...

I think the fact that they went ahead and promoted able part-time women to the Board signals the culture, and means that meetings aren't set for 4.30pm - because if they were all the senior people wouldn't be able to come. And the successful women at the company are NOT the pretty ones (I've seen that happen before and it's guaranteed to put off able women IMO) And asking for flexible working is easier when lots of senior highly-thought-of people work flexibly.

Durab Fri 30-Nov-12 17:59:09

IMO the lack of women in senior roles is due to the lack of ability to work flexibly lower down. Flexible working is less important in very senior roles because usually by that stage in a career, children are older and/or an individual has taken the decision that career comes first. If you want a very senior role, that has to be the case, male or female.

I used to work in Corporate Banking. I was highly respected and happened to time my return from maternity leave for when they were finding it very hard to recruit. Even so there was huge reluctance to let me work part-time in my junior management role. I got it eventually through a piece of brilliant negotiating on my part (even if I do say so myself) Over the subsequent 10 years I got promoted twice whilst still clinging onto my flexible working, but it was made clear to me time and time again how inconvenient it was for everyone.

My role as most senior (although relatively junior) woman in the organisation (locally) meant I was wheeled out whenever they needed an opinion on equality etc. They really didn't understand why they didn't have women in senior roles. It's because the vast majority left when they had their first child, when they were still in fairly junior positions. I know it's not the same in all industries, but in that one it was definitely, if you (anyone) leave you won't be back.

The reason women with children couldn't/wouldn't do the job full-time was because no matter what your "official" hours, you were basically working 24/7. I had a will of steel to maintain a proper work-life balance, even though I was "officially" working only 28 hours per week. FT (men) were working 60-70 hours pw.

It was nothing to do with fewer opportunities for women. The organisation was actively seeking to appoint women and the few childless women generally did well. Women were deciding they just didn't want to live/work like that once they had a family.

GrendelsMum Fri 30-Nov-12 19:27:09

Just wanted to say that I am disgusted that anyone should think that it is Being Unreasonable for a carer to take leave at short notice to cover an illness, particularly if they're saving their annual leave up specifically for this. (Our particular situation is quite different and Fuckingwonderwoman has offered me some very useful advice via PM.) Can't think of any way to say how much I think that is a crap attitude without sounding like some kind of Daily Mail 'our country is going to the dogs' comment writer.

ANYWAY, I did want to contribute another problem from a business viewpoint. I know of a small business that planned to have very flexible, family-friendly working policies, almost expecting to have women with young children working part time (don't know if that's an entirely positive expectation given it didn't apply to men with young children...). And then the clients began to complain that they didn't like having account managers who weren't in the office every day of the week. And the biggest clients asked to have the full time account managers, who were either men or women without young children. And then the people with the biggest clients exceeded their targets and got the rewards and recognition...

MistyB Sat 01-Dec-12 17:37:57

I have been out of touch with this area for a while but UKRC, the UK Resource centre for women in science, engineering and technology do a huge amount of work in this area, as do Cranfield Business School who have written lots on the subject of who is good at this and why (BT, Ford and Unilever spring to mind and career planning, mentoring and flexibility featured in the success factors). I think Working Families also have some good resources.

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