- Rachel Vandenberg
What Women Want
It's Wednesday at 4:15 during peak foliage in a bustling New England tourist destination. I’ve just wrapped up an intense day of turnovers, supporting the team with making beds to ensure all arrivals are ready by check-in time. I have just enough time to make it to the soccer field to pick up my youngest daughter. My son will have to wait because his practice ends across town at another field at the very same time. Fortunately, a friend has brought my oldest daughter to dance class which starts when the soccer practices end. My husband is in the restaurant cooking because we can’t find a cook, so no help there!
And this repeats itself five days per week.
If you are wondering, how do I make this work in a household with two full-time working parents, well, I ask myself that question often too. The only way it works, is because I’m the boss. And let’s just say, that I’ve implemented my own flexible leadership strategy to meet my needs.
The struggle is real, and I’m not the only one experiencing it. Just last week, a friend of mine returned to a corporate job after taking a few years off. Her choice was driven by an itch to use her full set of experiences, intellect, and skill set. However, she was only enabled to do so because her job is remote and her husband’s post-pandemic travel schedule has dramatically been reduced in comparison to pre-pandemic norms.
A second friend left a corporate job for what I call the “self-empowerment” move – she’s leveraging her career assets including two decades working for big brands and forging a path on her own as an independent consultant.
Women in the Workplace
If these anecdotes don’t paint a clear enough picture, the data will. This week, McKinsey & Company released the 2022 Women in the Workplace report. Published yearly in conjunction with LeanIn.org, this report provides data from hundreds of corporate women in the workplace illustrating the state of gender equity and the experience of women leaders in the workplace.
Over the years since McKinsey started conducting this research, there have been some incremental improvements. However, the biggest disappointments remain that only 1 in 4 c-suite leaders are women and the “broken rung” still exists as a major barrier for women reaching the top. For every 100 men that are promoted from entry-level positions to managerial positions, there are only 87 women promoted and 82 women of color.
The biggest disappointments remain that only 1 in 4 c-suite leaders are women and the “broken rung” still exists as a major barrier for women reaching the top. For every 100 men that are promoted from entry-level positions to managerial positions, there are only 87 women promoted and 82 women of color.
The most striking result of this year’s report is that women leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rates ever reported. For every one woman promoted to director level, two women directors are leaving their companies either for other opportunities or dropping out of the workplace all together.
“Houston, we have a problem…”
The problem is that companies are not delivering on workplace culture that addresses the needs and obstacles for women and particularly marginalized women. For example, one of the biggest issues around workplace culture is flexibility. Of the women interviewed, 49% say that flexibility is a major factor in a decision to stay or leave a company compared to only 34% of men.
In my recent article, “Why Your Efforts to Achieve Work-Life Balance Aren’t Working”, I tackle some of the mindsets around this issue for women. However, the problem is also inherently structural and cultural and directly influenced by workplace policies and norms.
Here’s the thing, it is not rocket science how to solve the problems. Ask almost any working woman, and she could probably give you a specific list of her needs to be able to maintain her leadership position and feel supported in the workplace.
So what do women want? And no, I’m not talking about the inner salacious thoughts of women as portrayed in the 2000 romantic comedy film with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt of the same name…
What Women Want
Freedom to choose working arrangements
Spend a day in the shoes of a working woman with children (aka stories at the beginning of this article) and you’ll find out very quickly that the traditional 9-5 in-person workplace expectation just doesn’t fly. Women need and want a choice on when, where and how they are going to complete their work commitments. Clearly, it’s a give and take and women leaders must be able to deliver on their job descriptions and goals. However, the status quo doesn’t support women enough and forces them to choose between work and taking care of their families. And, vague proclamations from predominantly older CEOs that teams can’t be managed well remotely or that remote work hurts company culture are sorry excuses for ignoring the need to re-shape the way and how we work.
According to the Women in the Workplace 2022 report, only 1 in 10 women want to work fully on-site and 61% of women compared to 50% of men want to work mostly remote. The reasons for wanting flexible working arrangements are also broader. Women report that working remotely reduces stress from micro-aggressions and other characteristics of hostile work environments.
Value their Time
As hertelier contributor Nancy Mendelson would say, there is so much to “unpack” here… Time and time again, our experience as women is that our time is not valued. This phenomenon couldn’t be better illustrated than by Eve Rodsky’s story on her podcast episode “My Time Doesn’t Matter.” In this episode, she recalls a story in which her husband found a dirty jacket and a broken bottle on the front lawn one morning. When Eve returned from a work trip that day, after a long day of flying, meetings, and pumping breast milk in dark hallways, she discovers the dirty jacket and bottle still lying on the front lawn. Apparently, her husband’s time relaxing that evening was more valuable than hers!
The moral of the story is that women are not only overworked at work, but also at home where they pick up a disproportionate amount of household duties. Mckinsey reports that when it comes to entry-level positions women are twice as likely as men to be doing all the work. When it comes to women in leadership positions, the gap nearly doubles because male leaders more often have stay-at-home spouses.
Related Reading: The Struggle is Real: New Mothers Open Up About Why the Juggle is Even Harder in Hotel Management
But what does this mean for the workplace? What it means: be more purposeful about how women’s time is used. It means cutting down on unnecessary meetings, creating intentional and meaningful gatherings with teams, and allowing women to work at times that enable them to see their kid’s soccer game guilt-free. It also means placing a value on the time women spend playing other roles at work including looking out for fellow colleagues, volunteer projects, and DEI initiatives.
Recognize Women for their Value
The flip side of taking actions that value women’s time is realizing that the time that women put into work shouldn’t be the only measurement of their worth. Many experienced women leaders are queens of efficiency and organization because they have for so long had to do it all and get things done, especially as working mothers. This means that they can deliver on the expectations of their job in less time. If women are spending less time in the office or in the zoom room, they shouldn’t be punished during evaluations or passed up for promotions if they still deliver results.
Provide Purposeful Benefits and Support Systems
Trendy office lounges and working spaces, free office snacks and gym memberships are meaningless if the basic needs of women leaders are not being met. It’s time to think out of the box above and beyond health care and fixed vacation days. Women need benefits and support systems that will allow them to take care of themselves and their families:
Extra days off that don’t count against vacation or sick days to volunteer at school, take children to appointments etc.
Grocery delivery and take-home meal services
Cleaning and laundry services
Tutoring services and financial support for childcare, children’s activities and athletic programs
These types of benefits would allow women to spend their time where its most valuable to them and perform at work without having to sacrifice their personal or family well-being.
As a fellow Hertelier or Hotelier, you may be wondering, how does this apply to women leaders in operations where physical presence is inherent in the job? I’m not going to lie, as a General Manager and woman leader, creating the kind of flexibility as described above does not come without challenges. But it is possible. Working shifts can be split up differently to accommodate school schedules. Job and management responsibilities can be shared. Women leaders in hospitality management can lead without working 60 hours per week.
Creating the kind of flexibility as described above does not come without challenges. But it is possible. Working shifts can be split up differently to accommodate school schedules. Job and management responsibilities can be shared. Women leaders in hospitality management can lead without working 60 hours per week.
If we want different results, then it's time to make different decisions. Your women leaders are banking on it.
Rachel Vandenberg is the owner and operator of Sun and Ski Inn, Stowe Bowl, and Stowe Golf Park in Stowe, Vermont. Rachel is also a graduate of Coach U, a leading training institute for executive coaching. In 2020, she founded her coaching practice called PEAK and she is working towards her International Coaching Federation certification.