It's a cliché question to ask, "How does she do it all?" But, for those women who do manage to successfully balance their professional and personal life, the answer is likely that they work for a progressive, supportive company. And, they've probably grinned-and-bore it through the tough times too.
That's what has gotten Megan Doberneck, general counsel and company secretary for Vodafone Americas , through her long career in the telecom industry, and it's convinced her that the most important thing companies can do to support their female employees is focus on retaining them. That requires adapting policies that go beyond what's legally required, which isn't much when it comes to parental leave. Not only that, but also creating a culture that enables, and even encourages, its employees -- both male and female -- to take full advantage of policies.
Doberneck, a member of Women in Comm's Board of Advisors, caught up with Light Reading to explain how to make family-friendly policies work for employees and employers alike, as well as to share how doing so has benefited Vodafone in the past year.
Light Reading: What is the biggest issue or challenge you'd like to shine a spotlight on when it comes to women in comms?
Megan Doberneck: I think of women as caregivers of any nature -- kids, parents or whatever, where there is a significant personal commitment in terms of caregiving -- and I think about two things for that particular woman: What can we do to facilitate keeping that woman in comms, and what are good measures to say are we making progress on that front? It's specific to a caregiver mindset, but it's true for all women in comms. It's extra true for women with a personal commitment with significant caregiving responsibilities. I do think the pipeline is important, but in my experience, the challenge has been keeping women in comms.
I think many companies, particularly in the tech sector, have started grappling with the issue of keeping women in comms. I do believe as challenging as it may be, there are some real clear and focused ways to help. Oftentimes the first significant way for all employees, but especially women, is parental policies -- paid family leave arrangements that allow women to have some time and have some space to figure things out at a pressure point in one's life. They are tired at home and at work and no one really cares that you have a baby at home. It gives time and space to figure out how to make that juggling work and how to give your employees time to figure out the equilibrium between work in the workplace and at home and to be able to find -- as hard as it may be -- the equilibrium between work and home.
Vodafone is one company, but there's growing momentum behind companies, and in particular those in tech, really focusing on that as the first entry point where you see significant drop off numbers. I think the challenge or focus is as much as I think it's fantastic and absolutely critical, it doesn’t stop after the first year. I'd love to see companies spend more time and focus attention on providing a continuum of support for anyone. It just falls more heavily on women. As the demands in the workplace change, you have to have a way to change your equilibrium at home, so you can maintain that equilibrium between work and home. That, from an overall industry perspective, is what I think is the biggest challenge: recognition and creative thinking about what kind of approaches we can take to facilitate that. It's true for anyone with caregiving responsibilities and managing demands of personal and professional.
LR: What can companies do to start making changes that support achieving this work-life balance?
MD: I think there are three really key pillars of what companies can at least start to do to facilitate that: One is in the compliance arena; If we're committed to keeping women in comms, you have to establish the same tone from the top. Whether people can take advantage of it or not, allow them to feel they can legitimately prioritize their personal needs in a moment they need to make it a priority without any negative impact to their career; that they work in an environment where it's possible. It's clearly cultural and tone from the top.
My boss is a great example of that. He was helpful to me this year where I'm sandwiched between elderly parents and kids with stuff going on. He has confidence in me to let me pay attention to those things. Whether I can or not, mentally it keeps me in the game, knowing that opportunity is there.
Two, we really need to continue to think about what kind of work place or work hour arrangements can we make work, respecting the fact that we work for for-profit businesses where you have to get work done. The traditional answer is part time, but there's often no such thing. What can you do? How can you facilitate something that lets work be more manageable? I don’t believe part time works. The demands of business are such that I don’t think it's possible as you get more mid- and senior-level; business is too unpredictable to say I will walk out the door at 4:00 p.m.
What does work is -- I've looked around and it's anecdotal, but -- job sharing if you can find the right partner. It's flexible arrangements and how we can stretch our corporate thinking about when work really needs to be done, so we have more flexibility in defining the workday. Again, that takes a cultural commitment as well as just policies and vehicles for it, because you may have it but if people aren't living it, it doesn’t get you far.
The third piece is culture. I need my male colleagues to be as invested in it as I am, because it provides them with opportunities that historically can be difficult for men to take advantage of. Right or wrong, a lot of men don’t feel they have a real ability to do that, but if men are invested in it as much as women and it becomes about our collective workplace, that has to be the third pillar of it. If it's just an issue for women, it doesn’t get us where we need to go. It needs to be about our collective success as an organization to get it to work. It's culture, but also supporting our male colleagues to do it as well.
There are a lot of modifications for how you structure your policies. The policy structure and overall programming, even with culture change, you need your vehicles, but they are just not sufficient. I'd rather have the culture, and you can figure out from management how to make it happen. And bring men into the conversation so they see it as relevant to themselves. There's an impact either professionally, because the organization is more successful and there are powerful statistics around diversity and success, but you also want a workplace where everyone is fairly and equally treated. If you don’t make it equally beneficial, you won't have anyone feeling like they all are fairly treated. I think that's the hardest piece of it all.
There is a lot going on in many different countries to make it happen. He for She in the UK -- our group CEO is endorsing that and encouraging men to join in. Those are the kind of things to broaden dialogue. It is really about dialogue, but it needs to be a collective concern and challenge.
Next page: Vodafone's policies in action