#Balance for Better

I love this year’s IWD theme of ‘balance for better’, and the sentiment that ‘balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue’. It feels optimistic, inclusive and most of all it recognises that equality isn’t a zero-sum game. It resonates with exactly what I’ve been seeking to achieve with How Do You Do It ever since we launched in 2006. Only by including men and in our case specifically fathers in the discussion and action around the sharing of caring and career responsibilities will you support women in achieving their career ambitions and aid men in fulfilling the role they want to play as fathers.

We have always run coaching programmes for working fathers as well as mothers (something that met with at best bemused looks and at worst clear pushback on the need for support for dads when we first launched). Yet 13 years on, I still find it staggering that for many of the dads we work with, our coaching sessions are the first opportunity they have had to explore, discuss and share their experiences, challenges, and aspirations as a working parent. This ongoing denial of the impact parenting has on men and the active role they want to play as parents means childcare and the associated mental load tends to default almost exclusively to mothers with the ensuing limitation this places on their careers.

And here is where the personal becomes a business issue. Although organisations are genuinely striving to achieve more gender diversity in their boardrooms, the reality for many is that there is still a disconnect between company policies around creating environments that enable multiple version of success and better reflect the diversity of the workforce and what is experienced in practice. The single version of success with the ‘ideal’ worker available 24/7 is still role modelled and valued as the norm for many senior positions, creating barriers to female progression and blockers to men working more flexibly. Is it therefore any wonder that when organisations look around, they see that many of their talented women have either left or taken a step back at the point they became parents, and the ‘there were no suitable female candidates’ excuse is all too often rolled out to explain a lack of progress in this area?

As our recent Tweetchat about the #mentalload demonstrated, men and women are crying out for different ways to succeed in their career and home life, but this can only happen once the structures that are in place to support working mothers become open to all and stop being viewed as barriers to career progression. Flexible work and parental leave are fantastic levers to support better balance, yet they are too often seen as ‘mum issues’ and regarded as bywords for career stagnation. Organisations that embrace flexibility for all, encourage (and enable) shared parental leave and most importantly role model this behaviour throughout the organisation will be the ones that genuinely see #balanceforbetter isn’t just slogan but a way to positively transform their business and the lives of the people that work for them.

Virginia Herlihy
CEO and Founder, How Do You Do It