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If we have learned anything over the last two years amidst the global pandemic, it’s that employees want and need work-life integration.
This is a step beyond work-life balance. ‘Balance’ implies that things are equal and that a person is giving their professional and their personal lives the same amount of time and energy. The reality is that, after work, sleep, commuting, eating, and taking care of others, we don’t have a lot of time left for our personal lives. Balance is nearly impossible, so integration is the next best thing.
Work-life integration is the blending of personal and professional lives and responsibilities and finding areas of compromises — and that’s what Sheryl Sandberg reported that she wasn’t able to do at Meta. Sandberg announced that she would be stepping down in the fall of 2022, saying that, “It’s a job that I love, but it’s 24/7…it’s not a job you can do and also do other things.”
Women in many industries, including tech, have long been considered “unable” to handle the responsibilities of work and home life. And some organizations have used that as an excuse to either not hire women or not promote them.
Sheryl Sandberg’s blueprint for success
For so long, Sandberg’s success challenged that notion. After 14 years at Meta and an even longer career in general, we would hope that she more than proved what is possible for women in tech. Unfortunately, a lot of women in the tech industry will likely hear a chorus of “I told you so” after Sandberg’s departure — but is that sentiment really warranted?
Women, more so than their male counterparts, are often looked to for several tasks outside of their normal “9 to 5.” In addition to often having increased responsibilities at home, women frequently take on non-revenue generating tasks at work such as party planning and note taking. Those activities add to the culture and success of the organization, but they don’t garner the same attention as activities that directly impact the bottom line.
Thus, in industries like technology where women are very much the minority and are often assumed to be unable to compete, it can set them back even further.
Sandberg’s blueprint gems
Thankfully, Sandberg left a blueprint for how women can succeed in the tech industry.
In her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, she shares that blueprint gems like:
- Build and display your core skills as you go: “Women need to shift from thinking, ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.'”
- Look for companies that have women in executive leadership: “The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results.”
- Be bold in everything you do: “Fortune does favor the bold and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.”
- Partner with others who can help you both at work and at home: “When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects, or even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”
Sandberg’s departure from Meta will undoubtedly be felt for many years. But she left behind a legacy and a plan for women to continue to grow their careers in tech and every other industry. It’s now up to every company out there to realize the goldmine they have in their female staff and make sure they have every chance to succeed.
But the desire for work-life integration isn’t limited to any one gender. With Sandberg being so vocal, many may think that the tech industry is a walk in the park for men, but the truth is, employees of all demographics are facing difficulties and all employees are hoping for the same outcomes — success, autonomy, flexibility, and life integration.
The push for productivity and control often has the opposite effect
Elon Musk’s recent insistence that employees end remote work, combined with the even more recent discovery that he was spying on employee’s personal social media to learn more about their desire to unionize, go against everything we know about keeping employees engaged and connected to a company.
In a recent study, 77% of respondents said they want to work for a company that gives them the flexibility to work from anywhere. As an example, when Apple took a stance against remote working as an option, they experienced a spike in resignations.
Similarly, when we think of organizations monitoring their employees, we are reminded that moving away from a surveillance model to a performance- or outcome-focused approach increases engagement and performance. For many managers, remote work made them feel a lack of control over their business so they, like Elon, moved towards surveillance. But this pushes employees to an avoidance mode — that is, seeking to avoid being “watched” — and that fixed mindset stifles creativity and engagement.
Elon Musk seems to believe that the way to boost productivity is to monitor and remove all autonomy and flexibility from employees. The opposite is actually true. We’ve learned that in most industries, tech included, employees working remotely boosts productivity.
So the question is: Is the return to the office about productivity or about monitoring employee activity? Unfortunately in some cases, it has seemed to be the latter. Managers push for productivity and control by increasing monitoring and decreasing options provided to employees. This in turn leads to increased turnover and lower productivity — two things no company can afford right now.
As the tech industry continues to see changes, leaders are faced with the opportunity to continue to build on the success they have seen historically.
Women like Sheryl Sandberg have left a lasting impression and hopefully will continue to, ultimately bringing the industry with them.
That success will be amplified if the industry can provide all employees the autonomy and flexibility they need to produce the stellar results all companies are looking for.
Christy Pruitt-Haynes is a consultant at NeuroLeadership Institute
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