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  • Writer's pictureNatalee Ovbiagele

Flexible Work Environments Foster Female Workplace Inclusivity

At 28 years old, I constantly find myself juggling the various roles that I play; woman, professional, student, wife, mother. At the present, I own 3 of my own businesses, have a day job as a Director of HR, I’m an MBA student, am married, have two toddler girls (3.5yrs and 2yrs), and am also expecting another child later this year!

As I navigate the course of life, I often find myself becoming too wrapped up in either the identity of professional or mother. There hasn’t been a fitting way to successfully merge these identities, two of the most major parts of my life that define who I am. Lots of women, not just myself, are constantly faced with this battle and the consensus really finds us only one solution: satisfy one identity and neglect the other.

Women work hard – there’s no doubt about it, and when we work, we invest our whole selves into our jobs. But unfortunately, we still live in a world whereby most household and childcare responsibilities disproportionately fall on the women. The pandemic has only heightened these disparities in households. Working mothers, like myself, then find it hard to balance the attention and care one needs and desires to devote to a child (or, in my case, children) versus the attention and care one needs and wishes to dedicate to their careers and ambitions. It’s the working mothers who almost always feel as if they’re being stretched in two, pulled in these opposite directions. Sometimes I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t. We need to be afforded the flexibility to make it all work.

If mothers, professionals, and all women, are given the flexibility they need to devote all of themselves to both their professional and personal lives, I believe that the workforce will finally see the change it needs, specifically for female inclusivity and female leadership. We need to be able to change the way mothers and professionals view and live their lives, not as either/or, but as one cohesive identity. Women can have it all, and right now we are uniquely positioned to start defining the terms of this arrangement ourselves. I believe this starts with transforming the traditional work models. Flexible work schedules are the future.

A flexible workplace accommodates different workstyles and individual needs. The traditional 9 to 5 workday doesn’t work for all - and it really doesn't work for the breast feeding mother who was up with the baby until 4am and will need to spend 2 hours pumping from her desk while trying to take a conference call. Depending on the industry, businesses may be able to offer flexibility in a variety of ways. Flexibility in schedules may mean offering nontraditional work hours or unfixed work hours entirely. It could mean compressed or decompressed workweeks, job sharing, longer or alternative break periods, unlimited PTO/vacation time, you name it... There are also, of course, the remote/virtual workplace options that give workers the opportunity to work from home, in the nearest coffee shop, answer an email while watching your daughter's gymnastics class, or taking a call from a beach family vacation half-a-world away.

Studies have proven that there is a very strong correlation between flexibility and productivity. Workers that have the autonomy and freedom they need to get their work done tend to not only be more productive, but also more creative and more satisfied. High performers are more focused on results than hours punched into a timeclock anyway.

To make this feasible in the workplace, employers need to build and establish trust with their employees, albeit mothers tend to have a deepened sense of their own personal responsibility. Employers should allow them to manage their own schedules to best suit their strengths and accommodate their lives. Then, measure them on their outcomes and not the process. This is a results-driven performance management concept.

With a little bit of communication, supportive workplace policies, clear boundaries and expectations, and a healthy non-toxic workplace environment, we can tear down the “Maternal Wall” and foster an environment for working mothers to thrive all the way to the highest of leadership positions in organizations.

All too often (especially recently) I'm hearing the term "flexibility" used as a buzzword at organizations, where it’s not actually about flexibility for the worker, it’s about flexibility for the employer. So the critical question becomes: Who has control over this, and whose needs are really being met?

I believe that the future is flexible in the workplace. Flexible work environments foster female inclusivity. How can you transform your organization to be more flexible?


-Natalee Ovbiagele

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