Why Working From Home Will Give Rise To The Next Wave Of Female Leaders
Opinions expressed in this article are reserved to the author.
Someone once said that “waves are the voices of tides,” and the waves of the current pandemic have certainly ushered in the tides of change. This wave of change has not been more evident to anyone than to female leaders sidelined by motherhood, a group that is looking at a level playing field maybe for the first time in history.
Just a few short months ago, we were dealing with a working world that was out of synch with executive moms. It was extremely challenging for rising female leaders who chose motherhood to be able to balance home and career and, too often, they were pushed into a career sidestep, break or downshift from which their career might never recover.
One study I came across from Goldman Sachs’ Global Markets Institute found that leaving the workforce for five years to raise children could cost women 20 percent of their earnings potential, although that time period represents only one-eighth of their working years. Another study found that 43 percent of highly qualified women with children leave their careers or off-ramp for a period of time, and while 74 percent of professional women will rejoin the workforce in some capacity after having a child, only 40 percent will return to full-time jobs.
Now, with nearly everyone working remotely and digitally, the work-from-home taboo is weakening and I believe we will see a shift of epic proportions as female leaders not only rise from the bench, but also pave the way for the next generation.
In truth, this is going to change everything. Here are four reasons why:
C-suite/board acceptance: The pandemic has brought every business leader face-to-face with something that has long limited the rise of female leaders: they simply weren’t in the room. Now, with business travel budgets slashed for the foreseeable future, working mothers will have a much greater opportunity to join boardroom, client and sales meetings remotely, without having to sacrifice time for travel. This will put female leaders who are mothers on equal footing with their peers, finally, and open doors that could enable them to reach their full potential.
The dad factor: Countless articles have been published that talk about how women who work full-time are still the primary caregivers to children and how they sacrifice job-advancing opportunities much more often than working dads do. According to a Pew Research Center study, 39 percent of working mothers surveyed said they had taken a significant amount of time off from work to care for their child compared with just 24 percent of working fathers. Now that many people are working digitally, both moms and dads will be home more often and able to balance caring for children against work demands. This presents female leaders with a greater opportunity to focus on their careers.
Setting a model for the future: In an era where every day is “Bring Your Child to Work Day,” children are now seeing and hearing their parents chasing their careers firsthand. Even once the pandemic subsides and more families feel safer bringing their child to school or daycare or hiring a nanny in the home (which will certainly increase productivity even further), millions of parents will have modeled what a career and leadership look like and their children will be much more likely to perceive that working digitally is normal. Having witnessed their parents working this way, the next generation will help further cement working from home as an integral part of the global economy in the future. Their experience will also help kill the notion once and for all that mothers must sacrifice career for family.
Digital nomads get a job: This new work-life model is uniquely suited to millennials and older Gen Zers, workers who have been pushing for more flexible work models for years. These younger workers are already known as “digital nomads” and a more flexible work life for female leaders, including moms, will encourage these professionals to aim high. A shift in work culture might even see the gig economy mindset replaced with a desire for a salaried position that enables female leaders to rise and excel without sacrificing lifestyle. This approach will also benefit larger organizations that may need fresher, more modern thinking and input in order to stay relevant as the economy shifts to accommodate further digital transformation.
As we all settle into working digitally, it’s hard to believe that working from home was such a radical idea just a few months ago. While it may have taken a pandemic to turn the tide toward innovation, it’s very unlikely, due to both economics and safety, that the working world will return to what it once was. As this next wave of transformation continues to gain momentum, nothing will be able to hold back female leaders or slow their trajectory as they pursue whatever level of management they aspire to.