Four Ways of Fostering a Less-Than-Toxic Work World

September 24, 2015

In her recent article on our toxic work world, Anne Marie Slaughter calls for a paradigm shift in how we think about the work done outside and inside the home. She puts forth a proposal: we've made significant strides for the equal right to work; now we should be talking about the equal right to care.

Her article harnesses a growing body of thought leadership demonstrating that flexible, results-oriented work increases profits and improves productivity; and partners it with the well-documented phenomenon of workplace differences for working moms and working dads (see Michelle Budig's 2014 study showing that having a child helped mens' careers, but hurt careers of women). At the same time I was reading Slaughter's NYT piece, a colleague (a white male engineer) pointed me to a study that backs Slaughter's conclusion with powerful data on the transformation that happens for women when workplaces go flexible: research by Harvard economist Claudia Goldin indicates that flexible work environments result in equal pay for men and women.

Slaughter's central concern is that today's workplaces aren't built to support co-earning parents--our workplaces operate as if half of its employees don't have a family to care for when they get home.

"We can, all of us, stand up for care. Until we do, men and women will never be equal; not while both are responsible for providing cash but only women are responsible for providing care."


Last week Slaughter's husband wrote that his wife's career was only made possible because he slowed down his own career to be their family's lead parent. I commend the two of them for putting forth their example as a cautionary tale for change. Some of the NYT comments critique for Slaughter painting with ideals that are out of touch with implementable solutions. My husband and I have acheived co-parenting balance, and as a CEO of a software company, my workplace has accomplished a results-oriented work environment where working parents can thrive. I can tell you how we've executed:

1. We encourage flexible work. At Unitive, every employee follows whatever combination of work-from-home with in-the-office time that best suits their personal life responsibilities. As a rule, standing meetings are scheduled after 10 a.m. and before 4 p.m.

2. Performance is measured by results -- not facetime. Digital and productivity tools like Slack and project trackers have reduced concepts like "facetime" to an archaic vestige. The measure of each of my employees comes down to the quality of the work they contribute.

3. We have no limit to vacation days. Our vacation policy is simple: take whatever time you need it whenever you need it. No strings attached. The natural effect of flexible, digital work environments are workdays that go beyond an 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. window. Vacations are critical to employee satisfaction and mitigating burnout.

4. We value transparency. I've found flexible work setups operate most seamlessly in environments in which employees are also encouraged to bring their full selves to work. While employees are comfortable being as open or closed about their non-work selves, our leadership's job is to foster a workplace that is inclusive to all individuals and lifestyles.

While we are still in the midst of our journey, our mantra of flexibility has been pivotal to the development of our corporate culture. Whether they're male or female, a parent or non-parent - affording my employees the right to live their lives gives each of them the opportunity to contribute on equal terms and ensures that a variety of perspectives arrive - and stay - at the table. My company's success hinges directly on this paradigm shift. The success of the American workforce is no exception.

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