By EVELYN TEH
Does time have a greater impact on women in the workplace? It’s been a topic with an ongoing debate. Scarcity of time is possibly one of the reasons as to why there are fewer women in leadership positions. Does time and its associated components really have a stronger impact on women in the workplace?
VIEW A: THE GENDER LENS
Sifting through cultures in the world, we find that there are always culturally-conforming notions of gender. Roles of women can range from being a housekeeper, children’s primary caretaker, secondary breadwinner, epitome of beauty to productive member of society, or all of these in combination.
Logically one would then question how a woman finds the time to be successful in every single facet. Well, the short answer is that this is a significant challenge for women. Organisationally, this is a key concern because a typical worker spends at least eight hours in the workplace. How do organisations ensure that women employees are in a position to give their best?
Serious implications can result from limited time for competing priorities such as burnout, disengagement and even resignation. Organisations that acknowledge this phenomenon, such as Deloitte’s WIN (Women INitiative), are taking mitigating steps. WIN has an all-encompassing mission to retain and advance women within the organisation.
It leverages on leadership programmes (e.g. Leading to WIN, Ellen Gabriel Fellows Programme, Breakthrough Leadership Programme) which are platforms for women’s exposure to strategy-level business opportunities, networking and gaining support through coaching and mentoring.
More common systemic strategies to address women’s competing priorities within organisations are policies such as flex-time, telecommuting and longer paid maternal leave. These all make business sense because women now make up more than half of the workforce with jobs requiring greater skills.
VIEW B: THE VALUE LENS
Nevertheless, debates on temporal influence in the workplace almost always turn out to be like Mummy Wars a la Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer – a term to describe how the focus of organisational work-life balance is exclusively between a woman’s personal life and career. With due respects to the ladies, where is everybody else in this temporal influence debate?
Sharon Poctzer states that “The issue is not what women give up for positions of power but what positions of power, by their very nature requires us to give up”. By this logic, the assumption is that the pool of people influenced by the limitations of time at work go beyond the mothers. Anyone who is interested in a higher albeit more time demanding position can be influenced by time’s impact.
Moreover, other personas in the workplace who could be affected by time may find it frustrating that policies are not tipped in their favour. What about the single female employee who would like to dial down and pursue a personal hobby? Or the male employee who is interested to have more time with family? Are these people taken into consideration as systemic strategies are being discussed, or are we only considering working mums?
Perhaps a more inclusive premise on the influence of time in the workplace could be that time affects people who have an affinity with more “feminine” values in life? Going by Hofstede’s definition of feminine values, these would encompass terms such as “relationship-oriented”, “harmony” and “quality of life” as opposed to more masculine values such as heroism, achievement and material success.
Traditionally, organisations tend to perpetuate more masculine values in leadership and these values communicate a sense of quicker pace.
Imagine then, an employee (regardless of gender) who embraces more feminine values such as work-life harmony, wouldn’t he or she be also impacted by time in the workplace?
Based on the value lenses, individual change is more feasible in dealing with the influence of time in the workplace before larger changes can take place. After all, we are the culture. “Temporal empowerment”, a term quoted by Stephen J. Dubner means “the ability to reshape your past, attend to the present and chart a future according to your will”. This can be the key to all individuals dealing with temporal influences in the workplace. Dubner did not mention specifically how to encourage temporal empowerment, but here are three suggestions:
#1. Our mindset
The common thought we have when we are wake up in the morning is “I don’t have enough time!” Compared to someone whose thoughts are “What can I do with my 24 hours today?”; the latter is creates space for us to focus on areas we can control. Having such a mindset can then empower individuals to be aware that we each have an opportunity to make use of our 24 hours. “You are not chained to it, it is chained to you,” says pastor Ed Delph.
I can imagine how #1 could create another heated debate on downplaying the environmental factors in optimising influence of time at work. Inconvenient policies, emergency meetings, peak periods – while we can develop our mindset to be conscious about the influence of time, we also live in an environment where other things will inevitably happen.
When that happens, we are faced with a choice and one that could be made conscientiously following our awareness from the mindset change. It could be requesting for a half-day break to clear our minds of things, or to ask for assisting resources. And when the fit is no longer beneficial to both organisation and individual, perhaps it is time to move on. Interestingly, organisations like Deloitte have begun to recognise these changes and implement proactive steps such as their Mass Career Customisation profiling.
This is an organisational-led step to align organisational needs with employees’ needs by engaging them in conversations to personalise each individual’s career structure. For some, it could mean dialing up to move up their corporate ladder, for others, it could mean dialing down to pursue a sabbatical. And until organisations start buying into this movement, as individuals, we need to take the challenging step of making conscientious choices.
“There’s everything you know and there’s everything that happens. When the two do not line up, you make a choice” – Mitch Albom.
#3. Being vulnerable
While vulnerability is an uncommon word in organisations as it is perceived to be weakness, Dr Brene Brown proposes that our avoidance of vulnerability is the core of our scarcity culture. How this relates to temporal influence in the workplace is us realising that all choices lead to certain consequences. Rather than beating ourselves up, feeling like under-achievers when we prioritise our health over work, it is essential to feel okay with the choice and its related consequences.
Certainly, in a scarcity culture, we can change our mindset to be more aware of our area of control, and we can make conscious decisions to optimise the temporal influence. But if we judge our choices solely on how the consequences don’t give us everything, the feeling of never-good-enough lingers.
That in turn skews us to think that time is never enough for work or for life and makes it more challenging when we are called to make choices. “When we feel good about the decisions we are making and engaging the world from a place of worthiness rather than scarcity, we feel no need to judge and attack” – Brene Brown.
True temporal empowerment does not intend to downplay the need for systemic changes in the community and workplace because that is a continuing effort to ensure that time’s influence in the workplace is balanced in its finest sense. Nor does it seek to divert focus away from gender factors as this plays a role where allowed. True temporal empowerment perpetuates a sense of peace with our decisions to use time and at a larger scale, moving everyone from individuals and organisations towards making more time-enabling choices and changes.
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