Flex Forward #1: Workplace Flexibility - Evolution Not Revolution
We have heard much about workplace flexibility recently, with no small thanks to Anne-Marie Slaughter, Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg. While not all positive in content, the debates are active, thoughtful and long overdue.
Context is critical
Why are we here? There have been significant changes in society’s work and family dynamics since the 1960s – e.g. working mothers have increased from 45% to 78% while mothers are spending 40% MORE time with their children; marriage and child-bearing are being delayed; increased eldercare with the aging population. However, the employment models have not evolved in tandem, causing huge strain in the system. That’s not all. The truth is both simpler and more complicated, with a splash of irony thrown in.
Aberration in time
Women were a significant and very important portion of the workforce until the 1920s. Then, for the first time ever, many women did not do paid work outside the home and children went to school. Although disrupted by the subsequent wars, this developed again with the boom the followed WWII. Historian and family studies expert, Stephanie Coontz, was enlightening earlier this week when she explained that the bulk of the current labor laws were crafted during the 1950s. However, this period was actually an ‘aberration in time’, as she put it, and not an appropriate historical representation of women’s roles or a reflection of their value in the workforce.
Out of sync
The rigidity of the employment framework is untenable. The existing laws and models are out-of-date and at odds with the current dynamics of our society and individual circumstances and therefore end up being detrimental in many ways. They need to be updated, to evolve and be aligned with how we work and live today.
What have been your experiences? How has lack of flexibility challenged, and sometimes changed, your career and life?