Each year, the selected theme for International Women's Day provides food for thought on how to encourage women's advancement in the world. For 2014, the theme, Inspiring Change, falls in line with the pressures to change that I've witnessed in the business environment in recent years. In particular, one recurring hot topic has been Changes in Mobility, and the challenges and opportunities businesses and employees face.
Perfect storm primed for change
The media has been picking up on a lot of big topics that have been influencing the workplace. Companies feel the pressure to rethink how business is done, be it mobility, carbon footprints, organic living, gender diversity, social responsibility, diversity of thought, cultural diversity, health and wellbeing... the list goes on. Well, it's a sign of the times. These multi-faceted pressure points are working together to break down the vertical barrier that businesses have created, making it sink in that change is inevitable if we want to move forward.
Through my role as president of PWN Global (Professional Women's Network), I meet and discuss with business stakeholders from all over the world about gender diversity. It's clear that the movement across the board on these multiple topics has primed businesses to consider new avenues, ways of doing business. It is already happening but as we know, change is hard. For example, with advances in technology, new business paradigms are appearing as employees are working more outside the office, traveling more, and increasingly accepting short and longer term transfers abroad. On top of accepting mobility on a more general level in its daily operations, companies are becoming more aware that they haven't yet optimized the added-value of mobilizing their female workforce. Women executives are now being offered more mobile opportunities.
The challenges of mobility
As many of our established members accept positions abroad, our network has recognized mobility's growing role in corporate activity and individual career success. Our network was also inspired to change, opening ourselves up globally and making ourselves present wherever our mobile members relocate and corporate sponsors do business. This is especially helpful to companies as well as their employees, because mobility brings its own list of challenges, both for men and women.
I have met with many members who have discussed some of their issues ranging from worries about career advancement to questions on how to school their children. In one case, a talented oil executive in Texas was forced to turn down incredible opportunities abroad because his wife worked as a lawyer, a regulated profession with specific rules in each country, which made the move impossible if she wanted to continue her career. From the company's perspective, our business sponsors discussed with us their challenges in trying to convince female employees to accept mobile opportunities. Some of the top reasons discussed for mobility reticence were uprooting the family, lack of a support network, fear of the unknown, and perceived roadblocks to professional development.
Develop new perspectives to ease the growing pains
Faced with these challenges we need to find new ways of viewing mobility. Solutions, like offering shorter temporary assignments, can respond to the challenges and logistics of moving an entire family. As a solution to the fear of the unknown and lack of support, businesses can increase special cross-border mentoring programs. Through such a program, executives holding the same job in different countries can discover each other's differences and similarities, from operations and best practices in Istanbul to sales and marketing in London. This is especially useful for women executives encountering new business cultures in traditionally male-dominated industries or cultures.
Changing global economies, emerging markets, and new technologies seek out and welcome any professionals with the capacity and skill-sets to successfully pave their future, be they men or women. Our task now is to ensure that "mobility" inspires positive images in which women have an opportunity to interact, learn, and network on an international level, confident that they have the support they need to thrive while abroad. Often viewed with fear in the traditional business world, "change" can also be a positive thing. PWN Global's own goals to raise Awareness, incite Acceptance, and inspire Action (the A3 approach) as an attempt to inspire change positively for women in the workplace, wherever that place may be.
An Optimistic and Sustainable Future
Generally, I feel optimistic about the "coming together", or convergence, of many sustainable-oriented movements like alternative working environments, stress-reducing wellness practices, environmentally-conscious decision making, positive leadership, increased focus on social responsibility, and of course Gender-balanced leadership (What else?). The culture shift that needs to take place is significant. Perhaps the combined pressure of these movements will be the impetus for businesses to intellectually and wholeheartedly rethink and shift their cultures.... creating a better future for all of us.