From a personal and professional perspective I feel compelled to write this piece because I am still seeing that women are underrepresented at an executive level within many businesses. One of the factors that impacts the career path of a woman is the decision they may make to exit a business when having children.
Having recently re-joined the workplace myself, I question whether the reason some women decide not to return could be down to a misunderstanding between employer and employee. For example, do employers understand that your priorities change after having a child but your commitment to your career is the same, if not greater, than before?
Re-joining the workplace after having a child can be daunting. Because of all the changes you have experienced in becoming a parent, you expect the world around you to have changed at the same rate or at least for the people around you to recognise those changes. There doesn’t need to be any grand gesture in making a new parent feel included, sometimes it’s just taking the time to understand that they are not the same person they were before. In many ways they are an upskilled version of the person before because they have developed new skills like; empathy, dedication, patience and flexibility – all traits that make great leaders.
In my first week back I was having a conversation with a colleague when they asked the question “what has changed since becoming a mother” and my response to them was that my commitment to my career has never been greater because of the decision I made to continue in the workplace. I’m not sure whether my colleague realised this, but in asking a simple question they had automatically made me feel included. It also highlighted that my identity as a mother and a career woman are clearly defined and are two very different people.
In misunderstanding women at a critical point in their career, businesses end up losing internal talent and therefore the ability to promote female leaders from within. The knock-on effect is that it can then be hard to attract external talent when there isn’t gender diversity at an Executive level.
However, I have seen a number of instances where the interim engagement model has offered businesses a successful solution to reintroducing gender diversity at a senior leadership level. I discussed this with a female leader I had previously placed, who when reflecting on the position we had approached her about said “I wouldn’t have entertained it as a permanent opportunity as I perceived the business as very traditional and I couldn’t see any other female leaders”. So, what makes it different as an interim role? Her ability to experience first-hand the culture of the business without feeling she had committed herself in the long term, eliminating any risk of it being the wrong career move for her. It just so happened that after 12 months of working for the organisation she decided she did want to accept a permanent offer to be a member of the ExCo.
Another female leader in my network said:
The interim model works for me because it provides the flexibility between assignments to take time out with my family and restore the work life balance. This is something I never managed to get right in my permanent career.
Does any of the above resonate with you? What do you think businesses could do to make women feel included at a leadership level?