Ramps To Nowhere

Why haven’t more women reached the top of the career ladder? Because of a certain rung missing halfway up.

Our client the American Society of Women Accountants has just released an authoritative white paper on how to advance women it its profession.  Its recommendations are drawn from the Accounting MOVE Project, which we manage for the ASWA and from other research, like a report on “Changing the Career Ladder” produced in 2007 by the Tuck school of management at Dartmouth.

As expected, all these source materials recommend daily flexibility as one way to stay on track through the child-intensive years of rearing a family.  On and off ramps, which were such a hot topic seven years ago, have proved to be one-way roads to nowhere. The report points out that flexwork is widely used and just as widely misunderstood. Fortunately, the ASWA emphasizes one point that is often overlooked: it doesn’t matter how flexible your policies are if middle managers don’t get on board.

Let me say that another way: top execs can dictate all the work-life flexibility they want, from providing nursing carrels at work (and isn’t that just common sense) to taking off early themselves for the occasional high school football game.  But none of that matters if middle managers don’t leverage flexwork to achieve their business goals.

Let’s see how this plays out in real life. An account team has to make a deadline. Four year old Madison gets sick. Madison’s mom, Emily, wants to work from home the day before the deadline so she can keep an eye on a fretful Madison.  You’re the team leader.  Is a company flexwork policy on a collision course with your pressing deadline? Or will using the flex policy help Emily contribute to the team’s ability to meet its deadline and thus snag the client and meet business goals for the quarter?

This is where flexwork breaks down: at middle management. When faced with an apparent choice between hewing to the company line about flexwork, and meeting a financial goal that could result in a personal bonus, most middle managers are going to choose option B.

And here is the best way to neutralize that and get middle managers on board with flexwork:  require them to include evidence of wise use of flexwork as part of their reports. Don’t just look at the numbers. Look at how they achieved those numbers. Deduct points for blowing off flexibility. Give extra credit for imaginative application of flexwork techniques.

Make flexwork pay in the short run, and it will pay off in the long run.

Image courtesy of Morguefile contributor beglib.


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