In a recent coaching session with a client, my advice was to relax into their new leadership role. This client isn’t a new leader; however, they are leading a new team. 

There is lots out there on the 90-day plan, the first 6 months etc.  All with well meaning advice on approaching a new role in the best way.  These suggestions, I am sure provide great advice. However  it may though not work as effectively for everyone. 

We will all have our own approach.  This will depend on our personality, level of experience, and leadership background.  The best think you can do in any leadership role at any time, is relax and be YOU.  You have been promoted or selected for the role because of what you bring.  Your uniqueness, your experience, your personality and your approach.  The more you can relax into the role, the more your qualities will shine through.  This will increase your impact and your effectiveness in the role.

Comparititus is a shocking ailment.  If one is diagnosed with this, they will find that they are forever comparing themselves to others.  They will be on guard for what others are doing and or not doing, and they have less time to focus on themselves, their value and what they bring.  A simple and effective treatment for this is to relax and be YOU.  Be self-aware, be conscious of others and how you can effectively lead them, be clear on your goals and what you are there to achieve, however just relax.

You are good enough, you are where you need to be, and you have earned your position because of what you bring.   Now relax and enjoy!

It took us about eight weeks to get into a groove with widespread working from home.   Those that have worked from home more than in traditional workspaces have been feeling vindicated.   Working from home went from a nice to have, a benefit, something to generally be fought for and won, to being ubiquitous. 

It now seems it is taking us about eight minutes to get back to workplaces.  The push is on to have people return into more traditional workplaces, with all the social distancing rules being noted of course.

We are talking about hygiene, sanitiser, staggered start, break and end times, teams A and B or red and blue, commuting into work and how tight our pants will be when we finally come out of the active wear. 

I read a lot during this pandemic about being grateful for what COVID-19 gave us- time with loved ones, creative activities and a much simpler lifestyle.    We still worked during this time; however we didn’t have the rush associated with having to get to work.

In the rush (because we seem to love one) of hurrying back to attending traditional workplaces might we be missing the once in a hundred-year opportunity to increase people’s choices about how and where they work? Pre the corona virus pandemic, changing the system of work had been near impossible.   Globally, organisations had made a few dents in attacking the problem, with limited victories.  This essentially excluded a whole portion of the workforce from being able to work because they couldn’t fit the mould of fulfilling traditional physical work presence from 9-5pm in a workplace.  Even if they could, they didn’t want to because that system didn’t fit with their life and needs.  But they still had a lot to offer.  They were qualified and experienced to undertake the work.  However, the work was being offered to them in one shape only.  It has been largely take it or leave it.  And if you take it be prepared to rearrange almost every other aspect of your life to fit around the system of work.

Do we really want to still work in this way?

Over the last 8 weeks, globally, for millions of roles, what has been discovered is that work is still done.   In many industries, business whilst hampered has continued.  What we haven’t had is the scrutiny associated with the 9-5pm.  Perhaps we have been focusing more on the value of the work and deliverables, rather than the hours worked? This flexibility can’t apply to all roles; however it can apply to millions of them.

Imagine a world where I can work what ever hours I like.  My productivity and value is measured by my outputs.  I can choose to work 52 hours or 16 hours per week, as long as my job is complete.  My leaders would measure my value on the quality and completion of the work I am employed to do. 

Hours become irrelevant.   The location of my work becomes irrelevant. 

Relocation for roles is no longer required unless there is a preference to move.  I can work for an organisation that is 3000 kilometres away and only attend the “head office” a few times per year. Using all the digital resources available I can establish and maintain a close connection with my team.

The system we currently operate in was created at a time when visibility of employees was required.  Workers were supervised and monitored.  Work was transactional.  They type of work that many millions of employees now undertake doesn’t require this.  Employees are autonomous.  We can seek direction and guidance from leaders without them needing to be in close proximity to us.

There is a key ingredient that is required in moving to a model where we value productivity and results rather than hours.  If we provide employees with full autonomy, we need to trust that they will undertake the work that is being paid for.  That is all.  Trust.  If we trust, perhaps we would not need all the many layers of leadership that exist in organisations.  We would employ people to undertake work.  We would contract on the actual deliverables required and when those deliverables would be delivered.  Why is it relevant, how, when and where employees work?  It puts into question our thousands of industrial relations agreements and awards and all the millions of policies that are associated with maintaining our current systems of work.   Reducing this complexity would simplify the system of work.

Let’s not rush back to how it was.  What we had was broken, no longer fit for purpose and it met the needs of a very limited group of employees.  Let’s move to measure the actual work.  Not hours.  Hours doesn’t take into account individual productivity, motivation and ability.  It’s a lazy way to manage work.

It has taken a pandemic to realise that we can have a sustainable shift in the system of work. For the sake of us all, let’s not waste this opportunity to create lasting change.  

When I started my PhD research in 2014, I was introduced to the concept of the leaky pipeline.  No, I wasn’t engaging in further study about plumbing.  This leak was referring to the vast amounts of women that enter university, graduate, obtain roles and commence working at the same rate as men, but for different reasons, end up leaking out of those perfectly linear career trajectories.  You know the ones where you experience minimal if any career disruption?!

Organisations here in Australia and internationally are generally quite focused on trying to find ways to keep women in roles to avoid them leaking out.  We have sophisticated campaigns and comprehensive policies, so, if we are spending lots of time and money trying to fix the leakages, why are women still so underrepresented particularly in executive level roles in Australia?

There is a substantial body of existing research on the topic of working mothers, the impact of motherhood on careers, gender quotas and targets.   However, the research lacks a focus on the real reasons that women are under-represented in Senior Executive and Board roles.   There is limited research that analyses why women make the decisions they do in relation to their careers.

Only this week the Australian Financial Review published an article with three key female leaders advising on what we should do to “get ahead”.  The advice consisted of “setting goals, having confidence, being collaborative, being resilient and having a mentor”.  All good sound advice.  But high-level advice too.  It could apply to anyone really.

How about some advice on extreme fatigue, the lack of an ability to focus, smashed confidence, 24/7 guilt, having to take on more junior roles if choosing to work less hours, disingenuous flexibility entitlements or being overlooked for promotions due to working part-time ?

These are the issues I hear in my coaching practice.

The question for all of us is what are we going to do about it?

I believe that real action in this area needs to involve a dramatic change to the system of work.

We still largely work in the same way that was set up at the start of the industrial revolution.  Why?  Do we need to?

I don’t think we do.

I think for many roles we could scrap the notion of “employment type” and measure people on output, not hours.  People should have the option to work where ever they like in non-customer facing roles.  It would be refreshing to have more executives that work different hours; not your traditional 50-60-hour weeks.  Imagine how productive workplaces would be if we engaged in actual work more often and had less unnecessary meetings which make up the huge hours we work.

We are slaves to the current system of work.  And we are no better for it from a physical and mental health perspective.

I congratulate organisations that are genuinely trying to address the issue of an underrepresentation of females in senior executive and board roles.  However, I think we are pushing the proverbial uphill until we turn the system of work on its head.

Everything else has largely been disrupted. It’s time to disrupt this.

New year

New goals

Progress

Movement

Bigger, stronger, faster, better

But what if it wasn’t?

What if a new year brought something different?

Smaller, slower, calmer, better

If you were feeling pumped about your big goals yesterday, and today you are feeling less enthused, perhaps take a moment to consider what you’ve set out to achieve.

I am all for setting big ambitious goals and working hard to achieve them, but sometimes we need to set big ambitious goals and work hard to achieve something different.

More time to stop, reflect, consider and move slower.

The expectation and anticipation that accompanies new year goals can be overwhelming, like you’re setting out to climb a big mountain.  At times we can feel exhilarated by this, but sometimes we don’t.  And that’s ok.

If you can, just pause in January.  There’s a whole year ahead. And on that topic, I’ve been thinking about 12-month goals… I prefer seasonal goals.  For a few reasons:

  1.  I like to adjust my goals to the seasons.  In the warmer months I’m drawn to different things than I am in the cooler months, so it makes sense to adjust my goals to the seasons, so I can feel optimal in mind and body
  2. I like to measure progress regularly, so I can adapt as I go… agile in practice
  3. Circumstances and feelings change – and so can my goals
  4. Minimises boredom of feeling “locked in” for 12 months

January is a great month to reflect and consider your vision, your story, your path.  In the quiet and calmness of reflection, our creativity and ideas tend to emerge.    Allow yourself time and space to feel this, so you can have clarity about what you want and need.

I wish you a fantastic year ahead, where you take big intentional deep breaths often and be calm knowing that all that you need, you already have within you. 

We are enticed to experience shock and frustration when a high-profile female leaves a senior role.  As females we are told that we can and should pursue careers, follow our dreams and raise children in the current system of work.  A system of work that was created for men with partners at home to manage households.  It has been in existence for over 100 years, with some changes, but just dents really in the context of making it successful for today’s families.  The latest high-profile female to quit her job is politician, Kelly O’Dwyer but many have gone before her on a similar path such as Em Rusciano, Jessica Rowe and Maddi Wright, all leaving media roles citing family reasons as one of the main catalysts.  Let’s not ignore the many, non-high-profile folk, including myself who have made the decision to step away from careers when we have been at the pinnacle, after having built what we perceived as “futures” for 15-20 years. 

“Having it all” is not really having it all.  Something always has to give.  The give often varies from family to family and individual to individual.  Combining work and parenting is exhausting, relentless and most of the time, sad as it is, we hurry and wish the years away in search of reprieve from the exhaustion and the very full calendars and schedules.  We seldom discuss the reality of working and parenting publicly though, as we post the most glorious 30 seconds (if that) of our day where there are smiles, beautiful meals and holiday snaps in our perfectly curated social media feeds. 

In the current system of work we are largely expected to work in structures and systems as if we don’t have kids or other commitments and responsibilities.  Hours in a senior role, hover around 60 hours per week, with workloads spanning across the entire 24 hour period of a day, because now they can.  We are under an illusion that because we can negotiate to arrive later or leave earlier we have “flexibility”.  In theory we do, because we have at least in some workplaces broken the back of being physically present for 38 hours per week in our workplaces, however waking at 5 am to get a couple of hours work in before the family wakes or logging back on at 9pm with a glass of red in hand has elongated the 8 hours per day into 18 hours.  It has made us more tired, irritable, overweight and disconnected from anything other than work.  We work whenever we can grab a moment, whenever the laptop, tablet or phone is nearby, and whenever we have distracted loved ones for long enough, so we can punch out another few emails. 

It therefore comes as no surprise whatsoever to me and many others who have also made the decision to walk away from all that comes with being a working parent when a female in a high-profile role quits.  The feeling of never having focus on one thing at a time, the guilt that permeates every single experience we have every day, because we got there late, we missed a personal or work milestone or we had to apologise for leaving early.  It’s the feeling of never being enough for our partners, our kids, our work, and above all ourselves.

It is now up to us to change the system of work.

It is up to us to work in a way that suits us.

It is up to us to ask why we would continue slogging away every day in the way we do, when there can be an alternative.

We can have a system of work where we are engaged to fulfil objectives of a role on our terms, in the hours and days we want, no questions asked.  Where sharing the same role with a colleague is as normal as having one person in the role.  Where if job sharing is a problem for your boss, it’s their issue to work through rather than yours. Where the working relationship consists of the objectives and outcomes of the job to be done. Where useless, time-wasting activities that currently constitute so much of the working week are abolished and real work is done.

Together, we can change the system of work.  The tipping point where they need us, rather than us needing them is almost here.  The war for talent is here. Our world is now a lot smaller, creating opportunities for us to work nationally and internationally without leaving our cities.

I would like to see a sea of red on Monday 18th February 2019.

I would like to see everyone that cares about changing the system of work so we can live healthier, more fulfilled lives in red.

If we really change the system of work, we will see a greater gender balance in senior roles across all industries in our country, we will achieve gender parity and we will increase the respect for women in our society. 

Julie Bishop started it, Kelly O’Dwyer has continued it and now I would like to see us all stand in red to demonstrate our commitment to changing the system of work for good.

18 February 2019

National “Change the system of work” Day

12 months ago life looked very different to what it does now.

I knew I was about to leave my big grown up job, but others didn’t.  I knew that it was time to enact my vision, a vision that I had worked on for two years prior.  And fundamentally I knew it was time.

My vision was risky.  It entailed me leaving a career that I had built over 20 years.  It meant losing aspects of my identity.  It meant stepping into who I am, fully, deeply and honestly.  It provided the opportunity to more deeply connect with the role of being a mother on a level previously unknown to me.

The learning curve was steep.

I was setting up a business for the first time.  I became the marketing, IT and finance department.    

I had to balance the excitement with pragmatism, the fear with courage and the doubts with optimism.

I tried many different strategies.  Some worked and some didn’t.  And that was just fine.  Because in my first year, I set out to try lots of different things.  My measures of success were not about making lots of money.    It was about feeling fulfilled as an individual.  My view on money and success is that it will come if you enjoy what you are doing, and you do an outstanding job.    

Having my vision, meant that when I had the opportunity to try something different, I knew what I was moving towards and I could focus on this rather than what I was leaving.  This felt extremely empowering.  I had put the time into really thinking about what I wanted, and I had control over when I enacted it.

The practical things I learned:

I am thankful for the decision I made.  It ultimately allowed me to step into who I am, unencumbered.  It has enabled me to define who I am without the shackles of a job or career.  It has allowed me to integrate work and life fully and on my terms.

We are here and ready for a new world of work!

We offer flexibility, we have great policies supporting new ways of working, we even bring our dogs into work – we are set up to make this happen!    We have more data than what we know what to do with. We’re in a new world.  A world where flexibility is the norm. 

But is it?

We are off to a good start – women make up almost half the workforce (46.9%)

Women graduate from year 12, undergraduate and post graduate degrees at a higher rate than men.

Once they get to the workforce, women represent 17.1% of CEOs and 30.5% of key management personnel and at Board level, women hold 29.7% of directorships and 13.7% of chair positions.  In 2018, 45% of new appointments to ASX 200 orgs went to women.  

Our pay gap is still sitting at 14.1%, however the data shows that it appears to be closing, albeit at a snail pace.

There is a whopping 42% difference in superannuation balances at retirement age between men and women.

Research supports that women are still taking on most caring responsibilities and domestic work outside of paid employment. 

So there is a heap of data that shows some movement, but the movement is not commensurate with the effort.

We have made some dents in achieving gender equality and we are thankful to all those that have come before us and their significant efforts in achieving change.

It feels that we all want the change, the equality, the reduction of what can feel like the burden of “having it all”, but it also feels like it’s moving 1000 titanic ships with a dingy boat.

I, and I’m sure others question why further change has not been achieved, given the efforts. 

In the research I have done, despite the many changes occurring in support of increasing female representation at work, and the rise of the gig worker and seeking new ways of working, we still find ourselves asking, why are we struggling with the way we currently work? 

We’re making changes but we are not looking seriously enough in organisations at the system of work.  How we work, where and when we work and measures of productivity.  Presenteeism is still prevalent.  Job share and part-time opportunities occur at lower levels, but hardly at the senior roles.  How do we expect women to take on senior roles when conditions are not conducive to them doing so?

We need to understand why women don’t think that they can access the roles they may have been aspiring to for years.  Why are some women inclined to steer away from a career path because a different one is perceived to be easier for them to manage from a lifestyle perspective? Why can’t we access flexibility and have a senior role in a large organisation?  Why do some women leave the workforce temporarily to have a family but never return to the senior roles they left? 

People are looking for something different.  An opportunity for them to take real control of their futures.  If the system of work doesn’t change to meet our needs, people are finding alternatives. 

Despite the many changes, organisations haven’t changed the way work is done at senior levels.  There are very few if any examples of senior female leaders that have careers and attend to their personal priorities.  It’s almost always one or the other.  Unless the way we work changes, we will continue to see very little change in the representation of females in senior roles. 

The case for change is evident. 

36% of all U.S. workers participate in the gig economy in some capacity, including part timers and multiple job holders.  Here in Australia, the figure of those working in the gig economy is sitting at approx. 19.5%, with 2.5 million working this way out of a total workforce of just over 12.8m.  That figure is set to rise. 

We are seeing a significant shift towards people wanting to be self-employed, wanting to leave organisations that are not aligned to their values and ways of working, and the rise of organisations creating fulfilment through work and life on a deeper level. 

The future of work isn’t just about big tech implementations or robots taking jobs, it’s about understanding that we need to focus on people.   Their experiences, their sense of worth and value, and what they give and take to the employment relationship. 

I think across all industries, we need to think differently by spending more time conceptualising possibilities, seeking out divergent views, and embracing complexity, and less time formulating specific strategies and plans.   We need to act differently by saying yes more than we say no.  Saying yes, comes with the responsibility of working out how to change something.  Saying no is easy.     

If we really change the system of work, we will see a greater gender balance in senior roles across all industries in our country, we will achieve gender parity and we will increase the respect for women in our society.  We will also have a workforce where people are genuinely fulfilled because they work in a way that respects their humanness and enables them to fulfill all aspects of their lives.

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