Making Back2work More Meaningful
As part of creating some of our programs at Global Coaching Lab, I had the pleasure of talking to a number of women professionals and organizations, to gain key insights into how individuals and organizations successfully handle the Back2Work transition.
Most organizational leaders I spoke to told me that “Embracing Diversity” was one of their key drivers and that they are putting in a lot of effort on multiple areas:
- Ensuring a good, healthy gender ratio in the workforce
- Focus on equal promotion opportunities for women that move away from traditional male bias to move up the organizational ladder
- Flexibility towards women employees who have just returned from maternity break or any sabbatical.
- Setting the right expectations towards performance in the case of their employees who are Back2Work post maternity.
In addition, they shared many more good initiatives, specifically focused around Back2Work.
I wondered why organizations were not able to meet their diversity agenda in spite of the policies and structures that they already have in place?
Based on one-on-one interviews and research, I discovered a few strategies that can be adopted to fix the broken windows* situation that organizations and women professionals face, when they return Back2Work post maternity (*Broken windows theory was introduced in a 1982 article by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, to help solve urban crime. Thereafter the concept has been adopted by many organizations to fix critical issues)
- I heard organizations say “Based on the employee’s commitment levels, we allow flexibility when they return to work post maternity…….depends on what has been agreed to, between the professional and manager….etc etc” – These comments left me wondering: “How can women professionals returning to work feel the organization’s commitment to help them handle the challenging transition, post maternity?”
Here, I do not want to discount the effort organizations are already putting in – with HR intervention, manager support and women support groups. What I would like to suggest is -Organizations can become more vocal in their support for Back2Work, which can become part of their regular employee communication. They can set up “Back2Work coordinators” in their HR teams, who can build programs and set interventions, that can build a healthy support system for women professionals, pre and post their break.
- Leverage a coaching approach – This involves working with a select team of external coaches, who can work with the manager and the women professional pre- and post- Back2Work. Quite often, it is important to prepare the manager to manage these transitions better – most of them do not know how to respond when they hear their team member come forward and say that they are expecting a baby. It is also the trepidation on the part of the manager, that they may have to inadvertently step into uncharted HR territory.Leverage a coaching approach – This involves working with a select team of external coaches, who can work with the manager and the women professional pre- and post- Back2Work. Quite often, it is important to prepare the manager to manage these transitions better – most of them do not know how to respond when they hear their team member come forward and say that they are expecting a baby. It is also the trepidation on the part of the manager, that they may have to inadvertently step onto uncharted HR territory.
Setting up and letting everybody know the availability of these coaching services, will help build employee commitment and engagement, leading to some improvement on retention rates and having more women professionals in all levels of the organization.
I also heard that some organizations offer counseling services to deal with transitions – I have nothing against Counseling, which has its own benefits, but the focus is still on the problem and not the solution – which is what Coaching can powerfully achieve.
- Organizations can create a system where the Back2Work coordinators can work with the Business to identify work roles which are both family-friendly and important to the business.
This would help transitioning women professionals perform in a role that is of critical importance to the business, yet allow them the freedom and flexibility to handle the transition well, adding some meaning to the “Flexi- working” policies and help organizations land the policy well.
- Another important factor that organizations should track is the SOCIAL aspect.
During my interview with a women professional who had returned to work after both her pregnancies, there was a useful, yet simple insight – She mentioned a lack of Social Life at work which has impacted her in two ways – (1), her upward career movement got affected during the following year, and (2), her ability to let go, and simply enjoy good company at work, without any inhibitions. The pressure to follow a very fixed time in and exit from office, due to their new personal commitment, created a lot of internal pressure.
These are a few suggestions which can have a positive impact in the Back2Work Transition for women professionals.
Look forward to more in the series over the next few months.