March 8, 2019

IWD 2019: How balance makes our cultures and our businesses stronger

Building on this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, “balance for better,” Ceridian’s Chief People and Culture Officer Lisa Sterling explores what balance means as a business imperative, and key areas of focus for leaders in the modern workplace.

There are vast changes happening in the world of work. As Ceridian’s Chief People and Culture Officer, I am constantly thinking about how to evolve our workplace philosophies to stay ahead of the curve, and about how these changes impact us from a practical and programmatic perspective.

I am inspired by this year’s theme for International Women’s Day – “Balance for better.” The thinking behind it is simple – balance drives a better working world. As leaders, we have a real opportunity, and responsibility, to drive balance for both our people and our businesses to thrive. We also need to recognize that achieving balance is more than corporate speak or a box-ticking exercise – it’s a business imperative.

In the last few years, conversations about inequality have largely focused on women in the workplace, specifically as it relates to pay inequalities. We remain focused on these issues, and committed to supporting and developing women with our organizational initiatives. We are simultaneously expanding the way we address these issues.

Whether it’s to champion and sponsor women at work or to ensure equality for equivalence, to have truly effective diversity and inclusion programs, we desperately need to challenge our way of thinking.

We need to change our approach to one in which we are creating experiences for people, regardless of race, age, gender, and other individual differences. Many organizations have continued to foster old conventions, cultural stereotypes, and limiting ideas about gender roles, and that’s reflected in their programs, policies, and broader company cultures. We need balance in our definitions, characterizations, expectations, thought processes, and delivery of experiences to transform our world into one where everyone is treated, recognized, provided opportunities, and celebrated equally.

To kick off the conversation and encourage action around balance, here are some of the areas we are prioritizing this year.

Bringing balance to our programs

I’ve written before – and reinforced above – that the majority of companies continue to reinforce a a bias (whether conscious or unconscious) that puts undue responsibility on women to make a choice between work and family. Organizations aren’t doing enough to build environments that not only treat working parents equally, but that advocate for them and provide opportunities for them to be successful at work.

We can’t achieve true equality if we, as leaders, don’t evolve our programs to create a culture that is not only conducive to working women, but to all working parents. We need to move beyond the outdated definitions of who and what a caregiver is, and understand the reality of today’s many different family structures.

At Ceridian, we are creating a new parental leave experience that doesn’t designate the time away based on elements like defining “mother/father” or “primary/secondary” caregiver. We are driven by the thinking that our people deserve to start and expand their families while maintaining their opportunities to grow and expand their roles a work. We believe the flexibility and equality in the experience reflects our focus on diverse family structures.

We also strongly advocate for work-life integration at Ceridian – as Fast Company notes, “the future is companies integrating with life instead of blocking it.” We provide flexibility for all our people, to support them in being their best both at work and at home. We do this in a number of ways, whether through our “Take 2” program, which lets employees take two hours off when they need to, no questions asked, or our Time Away from Work program, which gives employees flexibility in the amount of time they can take off from work for any reason.

It’s perhaps a popular misconception that the need for flexibility is a women’s issue, or a life-stage issue – but let me reiterate: we need to broaden the focus and change our approach. Everyone wants and needs flexibility, and it’s reflected in the makeup of the modern workforce.

On the issue of caregiving, Bain and Company wrote, “If we aspire to equal workforce participation by men and women at every level of leadership, then there is a clear imperative to ensure that both genders are equally enabled to share the caregiving role. Men and women therefore need to have equal access and equal success in working flexibly, without negative judgements or repercussions for their career progression.”

Related: How to implement a flexible time-off program

Related: To change the equality game, it’s time to get better at supporting working parents

Designing employee experience holistically

At Ceridian, we strive for our employee experience – beyond our policies and programs – to reflect the desires of our people at all life stages. This means pushing beyond flex work and policies and building balance into the fabric of the employee experience, at all life stages, in concrete ways.

 A recent national study by Bain & Company of 1,500 young U.S. MBA students and grads shed light on employers’ challenges in attracting the next generation of top talent. It challenged the assumption that women value career path flexibility more than men.

The study found that 69% of women and 68% of men – nearly equal numbers – want to reach top management roles – while also wanting time for family and non-work commitments. Both women and men said a key obstacle in reaching their career goals is the tradeoff between their career progression and their non-work and life priorities.

These findings emphasize the opportunity we as employers have to create environments in which our people feel supported and inspired to move to the next level, right from the early stages of their careers.

We have made it a focus at Ceridian to ensure we provide equal opportunities for all people to enhance their careers, wellness and development experiences. For example, we have focused on a few key areas to address bias and tear down the barriers that previously existed. These include removing unconscious bias from our recruiting strategies, and building an entire employee development series around strengths to further reduce bias and inequality. We also empowered our people to create their own affinity groups to build advocacy and equality at all levels.

Reimagining our approach to advocacy

Women’s networking groups and events can lead to positive outcomes for the people who are involved. Accenture research found that involvement in a women’s network correlates with women’s advancement, and noted that a women’s network is one of 14 key cultural drivers that contribute to more diverse and equitable work environments. Another of those drivers is that the network is open to men.

As this Harvard Business Review piece notes, the core benefit of these groups is social connection, from which both men and women can benefit. Organizations need to be thoughtful about balance in networking groups, and think more strategically about the opportunities provided through them. For example, how is programming delivered to people of all genders when it comes to career trajectory and career development, so all people feel heard and supported?

There’s also an opportunity to use these groups as a connection point to bridge gaps in understanding gender differences. We overlook the fact, for example, that men can be advocates for women when we exclude them from the conversation – and they can’t act if we don’t include them in the conversation.

We are in the process of reimagining our Ceridian Women’s Network (CWN), which we launched in 2016 (it was followed by the first CWN summit at INSIGHTS, our annual customer forum, later that year). Specifically, we’re putting greater emphasis on a grassroots approach of building the network, starting internally with our people. And as we go through our evolution, we’re focusing less on calling it a “women’s network,” and more on using it as a vehicle for advocacy around building balance in our organization.

The future is equal

The things we’ve talked about are human issues – they encompass all genders and identities. The focus of our efforts as leaders should be on breaking down the old stereotypes around gender roles, setting up technology that helps employees navigate the world of work, and encouraging the long game of cultural transformation and accountability.

When we come together and leverage one another, tapping into the full potential of all of our people, we get better.

This year, we’ll dive into balance in more detail in a series of blogs. Join our conversation and share your thoughts with us here.

Lisa Sterling

As Chief People and Culture Officer, Lisa is responsible for executing Ceridian's global people strategy combined with leading the vision on the Dayforce Talent Management offering.

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