Working women are making a huge mistake by continuing to work remotely, according to this executive coach.
Last year, Deloitte’s survey of 2000 Australians revealed that 50 per cent of working women found it easier to work from home compared to one third of male respondents.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne Institute asked 1200 respondents last September if they would prefer to continue working from home after COVID-19. Seventy-three per cent of men preferred working from home compared to 67 percent of women. When the same question was then put to respondents in November, the percentage of men preferring remote work had dropped to 64 per cent, whereas for women, the percentage bumped up to 84 per cent.
If women are indeed more likely to avoid a return to the physical workspace, California-based executive coach and president of Corporate Coaching International Lois Frankel says women are making a monumental mistake for two reasons:
- Decreased visibility: “If you aren’t in front of people, you’re not there. It’s the same as a Zoom conference call. If you’re on the call and your screen is off, you’re not on the call. It doesn’t matter if you’re there physically.”
- Added burden: “Research shows that since women have been at home, they have had significantly more of the burden of childcare, of being a homemaker, and of taking care of elderly parents – often, with no breaks. Staying home is only going to set them up for more of that.” Frankel caveats this assertion by recognising that some women with children might be working from home to save on childcare costs. “Then you have a strategy in place, there’s a reason why you are choosing that.”
Frankel, who is giving a webinar with AHRI’s CEO Sarah McCann-Bartlett on 27 April, has been coaching working women on topics ranging from career advancement and handling negotiations to balancing work and home life, and dealing with gender stereotypes since she began her practice 30 years ago.
Her work boils down to one simple maxim: “I want to help women see that they can achieve their goals.”
Dispelling unhelpful messages for working women
After Frankel began her coaching business – one of the first in the United States at the time – she worked with the vice president in manufacturing of a large company based in Virginia.
“[She] was on the aggressive side of assertiveness,” says Frankel. “I coached her for a couple of months, and then I went to one of our coaching sessions, and she said, ‘Before we get started, I just want to tell you that I was invited to sit on the executive committee of my company.’
“My initial thought was, ‘Wow, that’s great! First they thought she was too aggressive and now they want her on the executive [committee].’”
But before Frankel had the chance to share her enthusiasm, the woman explained: “I’m not going to do it. I’ve been to those meetings, and they’re a waste of time.”
At that moment, Frankel says all the unconscious mistakes she’d seen women make because of their upbringing, or due to internalised messages disseminated by the media or pop culture, came flooding through her head.
The meeting was formative for Frankel, who went on to write Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office – a groundbreaking guide that teaches women tips and tools to advance their careers.
“Most girls get messages as children about how they are supposed to behave – they’re supposed to be kind and be helpful, and be nice and be sweet, and not be angry, and not be too pushy,” says Frankel.
She urges women to take a long hard look at the messages instilled in them as children – and in particular, to focus on those that preclude women from reaching their full potential.
Treading a thin pink line
Changing societal perceptions and the structural impediments that hamper women’s progress can take generations, and adopting a different set of behaviours is not going to be the game changer in rectifying deeply entrenched gender inequality; it’s merely one tool that women can start to employ.
“My work is around getting women to say, ‘There may be a glass ceiling, but I don’t have to let it live in what I do.’ Or, ‘People may not like it when I speak my mind, but it doesn’t mean I shrink back,'” says Frankel. “Change your own behaviour and model the way for other people.”
Empowering women to find their voice is the topic of Frankel’s audiobook, Nice Girls Don’t Speak Up or Stand Out.
The book empowers women to strike the right balance in their workplace negotiations and conflict resolution when dealing with delicate issues such as “how to say tough things, but not get called a bitch, how to have difficult conversations but not be seen as unreasonable, how to ask for what you want and not be seen as greedy, and how to negotiate and not be seen as confrontational”.
Borrowing a quote from Winston Churchill – “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip” – Frankel says this skill is one she encourages women to learn and cultivate.
“I help women see that it’s a thin pink line that [they] walk. If you walk on one side of that thin pink line, you’re going to get marginalised. If you walk on the other side, doors are going to close, because people are going to see you as too aggressive.
“There’s a place in the middle where you have your voice.”
Steps towards an equal future
Frankel suggests three strategies for HR to employ in striving to support the advancement of women:
- Form affinity groups for employees in the same organisation who face similar challenges. “They make a huge difference. HR needs to make sure that they implement affinity groups so women get together to not only talk about common challenges, but to bring up solutions.”
- Be prepared: Ensure your succession planning is structured to create a new generation of qualified women leaders, says Frankel. This involves identifying women who have great potential, and assigning them assignments that will develop their skills.
- Invite men into the conversation: “We’ve been bringing women together in focus groups and training programs, but men have often been left out of the mix. I think some of them are feeling that there’s something going on behind their back – that’s not really true, but that’s how they feel. I think we need to facilitate more discussions between men and women about what a workplace could be like if there was gender equality and inclusivity in all regards.”
Want to hear more? Sign up to an hour-long conversation between AHRI’s CEO Sarah McCann-Bartlett and Dr Lois Frankel. This event is free for AHRI members.