Egg Freezing Debate: Fantastic Perk or ‘Hard-Boiled’ Corporate Greed?

working motherAs you can imagine, Facebook and Google’s announcement they’d pay for the freezing of eggs of female staff (and the partners of male staff) has drawn both advocates and critics. Some see it as a valuable perk and an extension of reproductive rights for an expensive process. We at Female Breadwinners see this as ‘corporate creep’. As Harriet Minter succinctly put it in The Guardian: ‘Rather than saying, “have your children in your own time and we’ll support you with well-paid parental leave and subsidised childcare”, they’re saying, “work really hard through your most fertile years and then when you may not be able to have kids anymore, you can give it a shot with the eggs we froze for you as a perk”.

Surely, these firms would be better off creating a culture where people don’t have to chose between family and a career at the same time. The unspoken threat is: ‘Don’t say we didn’t offer to support you get to the top; it’s full steam ahead or a family’. Plus what happens to the women who opt to freeze? Their chances of success are slim – only 2000 babies have been born this way; only 20 in the UK. Plus, we suspect women may feel a psychological pressure to carry on working, or stay in a bad situation with their employer, rather than starting their family simply because they have eggs in store.

The fact that this ‘answer to women’s woes’ comes from the technology sector is particularly rich. It’s an industry where women have less than a 15% chance of reaching a senior position – about the same chance of a successful pregnancy for a 40 year old who’s frozen her eggs. From our point of view, while early 20’s is the ideal time to freeze eggs, most 20-somethings are optimistic they will find the right partner, have kids and live happily ever after in their ideal order – egg-freezing seems implausible and pessimistic.  Interestingly, there may be another seedier and simpler motivation why this ’solution’ has come out of Silicon Valley as described by one insider in Newsday: ‘Something about this policy feels like Silicon Valley men plotting to get the women off their backs about marriage, so they can go back to their video games.”

Are women only coding bootcamps our future?

women in techWhen our sister company The InclusIQ Institute moved to their office at CodeBase, a tech hub in Edinburgh, they noticed a paucity of women in the halls. According to a recent article ‘Technology’s Man Problem’ in the New York Times there’s been a drop of 35% since 1985 in the number of women graduates in computer science. Women hold only one quarter of all tech jobs in the UK – a worrying statistic in an industry poised for explosive growth. We are curious: How can the tech culture change to be more female-friendly?

Some advocate ‘women only’ coding camps and training courses as the way forward. All-female courses such as those offered at Hackbright AcademyCodeFirst:GirlsGirl Develop ItGirls who code and Black girls code host coding workshops aimed at turning women into “awesome programmers”. It’s a case of separate but equal. It’s worked for many single sex schools, but are single sex programmes the answer when these women will be in a minority once they enter the work world?

Others think focusing on the positive side to the industry will attract more women. Numerous independent media platforms allow women to share their code programming and experiences in technology, examples being ‘Passion Projects’, and ’Model View Culture’. Sara Chipps, chief technology developer at Flatiron School, a coding faculty, said: “I’ve been doing this 10 years, and myself and everyone I’ve spoken to who’s a female developer has had an amazing experience in the developer community.” Given the prevalence of office ‘bro’mances’ in many tech start-ups, focusing on positive seems a stretch when there is so much misogyny.

The truth is the current talent pool in the UK can’t match the growing requirements for programmers. It’s estimated the demand for computing jobs will rise to 1.2 million by 2022 and there are insufficient graduates to match these vacancies. We need male and female programmers to create innovative workplaces of the future.

 

Are Daughters the Secret Weapon in Creating Inclusive Leaders?

Father and daughter diversityA few months ago, I spoke with three male panelists at an event hosted by a major bank, on gender diversity in the City. After our panel, one of the fellow speakers came up to me and said with an almost furtive look: “I know what you mean about women changing the workplace. My daughter Sasha is doing her A-levels and she is amazing. She is such a hard worker. If anything, it’s actually my son, Scott who I’m worried about! Scott rarely comes out of his room and grunts at us all, but I can tell Sasha will go places.’

‘It’s hard to think of yourself as a brand, especially when I have four daughters who kick my butt early in the morning every day before I go to work’ – Harvey Weinstein

His was not the first comment of this kind I’ve heard. The good news is his willingness to take part on the panel to a largely female audience, talking about diversity – may have indeed been unknowingly affected by his love and admiration of Sasha. A surprising new study has revealed how the mere presence of female family members — even infants — can be enough to nudge men into becoming more empathetic and generous leaders.

In a study done on Fatherhood and Management, researchers tracked the wages male chief executives at more than 10,000 Danish companies paid their employees over a period of ten years. On average, after becoming fathers, the executives paid about $100 less in annual compensation per employee. However, the changes in pay depended on the gender of the new-born child! Data consistently showed that wages were reduced when a boy was born, but not when it was a daughter.

To explain the empathy this study demonstrates, but also fathers of older daughters often demonstrate, the researchers Andrew Oswald at the University of Warwick and Nattavudh Powdthavee, then at the University of York argue: ‘A father takes on some of the preferences of his female offspring,” For male chief executives, this daughter-driven empathy spike may account for more generous impulses toward employees that temper the temptation toward wage cuts.

An article in The New York Times on ‘Why Men Need Women’ commented, “Daughters apparently soften fathers and evoke more care-taking tendencies. The speculation is that as we brush our daughters’ hair and take them to dance classes, we become gentler, more empathetic and more other-oriented.” Repeated studies have shown that women in the role of mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and colleagues have a profoundly positive influence on the men around them.

Do you think male leaders with daughters are more likely to ‘get’ diversity?

Are Your Job Descriptions a Barrier for Senior Women?

Job descriptions a barrier for senior women?We regularly hear from our corporate clients that not enough women apply for senior roles. Many organisations attribute this to fallacious factors – lack of ambition or not being ’tough enough’ for a senior position. In our experience working with global companies, we find too frequently, it is not the women, but the organisation’s policy and work culture that disadvantages women.

This gender bias is very subtle and often missed by the women themselves. While women may indeed blame their own ‘lack of ambition’ or disinterest in reaching the top, unconscious bias still creates these rationales. Unconscious bias by it’s very nature is unconscious, and so does not require an intent to exclude. Nor does it necessarily produce direct, immediate harm to any individual. Rather, it creates a context — akin to “something in the water” — in which women fail to thrive or reach their full potential. For example, let’s look at how this plays out in the recruitment of senior roles. In an article on Second Generation Bias in the Harvard Business Review, one male leader described how historical hiring processes encouraged one type of candidate; over-confident men to apply. His organisation had to make a concerted effort to review the job criteria for leadership roles – looking for bias:

One male leader said to me, ” We write the job descriptions- the list of capabilities- for our ideal candidates. We know that the men will nominate themselves even if they don’t meet all the requirements; the women would hold back. Now we look for the capabilities that are needed in the role, not some unrealistic ideal. We have hired more women in these roles, and our quality has not suffered in the least.”

The hidden costs of gender bias is high. High turnover, difficulty attracting women to the company, and a lack of diversity to match that of customers are just some of the disadvantages. If women are not applying to your top jobs, begin by assessing your hiring processes, starting with job descriptions, rather than blaming women themselves for a ‘lack of ambition’.

How to redefine an existing role to be flexible working: Create a Team Roadmap

Planning for flexible workingToo frequently we see clients object at making certain roles flexible with the argument: ‘But Tim’s always been in the office’ or ‘I don’t think Sarah’s team would know how to cope if she wasn’t always around’. Sorry, but ‘we’ve always done it this way’ is no longer an excuse forward thinking organisations can use when thinking about staffing. Planning for flexible working is only going to increase as Sara Hill, CEO of Capability Jane found when they looked in depth at the issue:

  • 79% of women stated that working from home for all or part of their role would be desirable.
  • 64% wanted flexible working.
  • 60% wanted to work part time (3 days a week).

It’s time for a team approach to establish a plan for the change towards flexible working. A proactive leader will gather the affected team together and get them to assess:

  • the role of the individual.
  • area of responsibility and the effect a change will have on the team.
  • how to combat the challenges or stumbling blocks.

If managers focus on these basic fundamental points they can create a flexible, tangible working map to act as guidance for assessing and establishing flexible roles within an organisation. The roadmap and process can even be used for other employees. Sara Hill believes it’s vital to document the set up process; listing facts that make it work and the obstacles that hindered the implementation of flexible working. This document can act as a benchmark for policy to use within the company as a whole.

Why more successful start-ups are led by women

successful start upIn working with successful career women, we often work with entrepreneurs. In fact, in some of the recent executive leadership coaching workshops I have conducted; almost half the attendees were entrepreneurs, an inconceivable ratio even 10 years ago. We see women’s entrepreneurship as a direct response to feeling overlooked and frustrated in the corporate sector. The problem for their former employers is that when middle and senior management women leave, they take hard-earned knowledge, contacts and ambition with them. Now research shows that when they do go, their new businesses are the real winners.

In fact, a survey late last year by Dow Jones VentureSource, on female executives in start ups found new companies have a better chance of going public, operating profitably or being sold for a net gain if they have women founders or board members. After analysing more than 15 years of venture-backed company data in the United States, the survey discovered the overall median proportion of female executives is 7.1% at successful companies and 3.1% at unsuccessful companies. Also, for start-ups with five or more females, 61% were successful and only 39% failed. This clearly demonstrates the value having more females can potentially bring to a management team.

In an article on Modern start-ups are suited to women, Luke Johnson wrote in the Financial Times, “Diversity in general makes organisations more resilient. Many businesses fall apart thanks to testosterone-fuelled disputes and founders overreaching thanks to rushes of hubris that tend to afflict men more often. Women are well-placed to curb such excess, and keep a project on course with more thoughtful management policies.”

Apart from the benefits they bring start-ups, women also gain from running the show. In other research, women cite flexibility as one of the key reasons they set up on their own. Women can also be more risk-averse than their male counterparts and less willing to sacrifice family life for the business. Neither of these traits are a negative: over-ambition and burnout are prime causes of bankruptcy and commercial failure.

At Female Breadwinners, we wholeheartedly applaud and are proud to be part of this new shift. Diversity of leadership styles brings better overall management and sustainable growth to start-ups, which is great news for both men and women.

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