I recently came across that provocative sentiment in the essay “The Underworked Solution: Women and the Talent Crunch.” The essay was one of several in a report titled “Entering the Human Age: Thought Leadership Insights” produced by the consulting company ManpowerGroup. In the essay, the author makes the case that, although more women in the workforce would have multiple benefits, there are many barriers to their participation. While some of these barriers are cultural, “many are structural — vestiges of an age when the five-day, 40-hour week was the norm, men were the primary wage earners and few women sought work outside the home.” This model is simply unfeasible for many women today.
The author suggests that a new, more flexible work model is needed if more women are to enter the workforce: “Many women cannot be office-bound for eight consecutive hours Monday through Friday. They need work that lets them choose where and when they get their jobs done.” This means “[allowing] people to set their own schedules and escape the office if that’s practical…If [companies] want to bring more women into the workforce, this practice must become the rule rather than the exception.” While this may be true, the very thought scares the heck out of many companies. They imagine that allowing employees that degree of freedom will lead to chaos. In my experience, however, the opposite occurs. Employees are actually more productive, more engaged, and more loyal to the company.
Of course, many women around the globe have taken matters into their own hands. These “women business owners are rewriting the rules of work and reshaping economies, especially in developing regions.” But the fact remains: for countries and companies to remain vital and competitive, women must play a bigger role in the workforce. It’s time to rethink 20th century labor practices and develop new paradigms that afford this crucial demographic the flexibility it needs for today’s organizations to thrive. It will certainly be interesting to see which leaders are up to the challenge in the years ahead.