At Work, Women and Men Should Compete and Care Alike
Speaking as the keynote at New York University's fourth annual Women's Entrepreneur's Festival, New America Foundation President and CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter called for new ways of thinking about men as a means to ensure gender equality in the business world.
Slaughter, whose 2012 article in The Atlantic titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" hit a cultural nerve, said men today face a challenge similar to that which women face in the 1950s: Societal pressures push them in just one direction. The difference is that historically for women, that has been toward the role of nurturer. For men, they are pulled toward their careers.
While men still dominate the corporate world. Slaughter thinks that might be because "a man's worth is only measured in how good of a competitor he is, while a woman's worth is valued both (as a) competitor and caregiver."
In fact, Slaughter said, emphasizing men's capacity to care as well as to earn could ultimately solve gender inequality issues. Slaughter said the problem with recent literature about bolstering women in the workplace--including her own article--is that it focuses too much on women and downplays the role of men in solving these problems. Emphasizing everybody as both caregiver and career-minded competitor levels the playing field.
Slaughter's presentation explored four different ways in which businesses can encourage this sort of thinking--and how it would benefit them to do so.
1. Reconsider flexible work policies. Not so much the policies themselves, Slaughter said, but the stigmas around them. Companies put these in place for a reason, so why are those who use them not considered leadership material? Ask yourself if you feel this way, and if so, how can you change that?
2. Consider "career customization" policies. You can customize anything today--except the workplace, Slaughter said. Would you be better served by working with new hires to help establish what they want out of a career, how they want to balance it with their life, and how to make it work? Slaughter cites Boston consultancy Deloitte as a company that does just that.
3. Predictable time off. "PTO" policies have been shown to keep employees more engaged and productive, while also building collaboration and teamwork. All you need to do is assign a period of time each week wherein employees may not respond to emails or deal with work-related issues. Not only does this give the employee an often needed breather, but it also forces their coworkers to work around their absence, ultimately strengthening teamwork. Slaughter describes this process as care breeding trust breeding communication breeding real collaboration.
4. Creativity needs air. This isn't so much a policy suggestion, but rather something to keep in mind. Creative work requires thinking time--be it a walk or time spent watching a show on Netflix. Perceiving your best employees as those who are working all the time just isn't going to ultimately yield the best work.
The video of Slaughter's talk is embedded below. Slaughter begins speaking at about the 20 minute mark.