May 23, 2021
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I have a confession – I work in large corporates. Years ago, when new mums came back to work and ask for part-time hours (3-4 days a week), my response was often lukewarm. I knew the demands from our clients and I knew the very competitive performance management regime and I thought they might find it hard.

I have another confession – I became a mum myself, and I wanted to go back to work 3 days a week and I’m faced with some interesting conversations of my own and I’m up against some challenging assumptions around what value can I add to a business in 3 days.

Sometimes we think we have a ‘diverse’ workplace, but often people can feel excluded from contributing all their talents or their gifts and contribution are ignored. There is a lot of management advice and business books out there that tell ‘difference’ to conform to the business norms. A lot of ‘women in leadership’ courses are based on this premise.

In the last Women on Boards MSCI report (2020 Progress Report) if the trend over the past four years continues it may take until 2029 for women to comprise 30% of corporate boards, and until 2045 to reach 50%. On top of that a recent McKinsey report suggest Covid has put progress on gender parity back by another five years.

But there is more to this debate than part time vs full-time hours or the number of women in high profile jobs. I think we can miss some important balancing components by talking about ‘diversity’ in traditional ways. It is something that goes to the heart of identity and societal value.

There are academic writers who would suggest there is something ‘feminine’ missing in the modern world of work which leads to an unbalanced and unhealthy work environment and the way we conceptualise work and the workplace. Not only that, it matters from a governance perspective. A recent HBR report, suggests that if a bank’s board has more women on it, it will commit less fraud.

Women bring something different to the table. And I don’t exclude men from this equation. I think there are probably many men who feel they would like to express some of these more ‘communal’, cooperating and nurturing attributes at work. I would propose many men are equally fragmented and frustrated with the current state of affairs.

I look back at my former self, discussing part time returns to work and wonder was I right or wrong? Part of me thinks I was right – we live in a competitive, aggressive, money making world and you won’t achieve your full potential by returning part time. But then another part of me thinks I have missed the point. By excluding alternative work practices and alternative life experiences of collaboration, tolerance and trust, we miss the opportunity to change the paradigm and create a new frame within which we can all work to add greater societal value in a less fragmented, more balanced way.

Inclusion means you include all people and all they have to contribute. More than that, you want to work out ways you can make sure all voices are heard and everyone’s performance is valued equally.