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Balancing the score | Can women really have it all in 2023?

Flexible working is no longer off limits, but women are still over working, doing the school run and trying to get the next promotion. 1LV tried to unpick whether, in 2023, women are finally on the brink of having it all…

Can women really have it all? It is a question that has been asked for as long as women have been pushing through the glass ceiling. Earlier this year 1LV hosted a live panel event to explore how we can influence policies and practices – inside and out of the workplace – to make having both a fulfilling career and a rich personal life a viable option.

Bringing together women from all ages and professions, the aim was to explore whether women can ‘Balance the Score’ and really have it all. The wide-ranging discussion, sponsored by Withers, was facilitated by Michelle Smith from The Executive Coaching Consultancy, which was co-host alongside International Women’s Forum (UK).

Giving women more choices about career and personal life

Those panellists in early career suggested they are seeing improvements in workplaces that give more opportunities to women to achieve a balance, particularly around flexible working. But the discussion overwhelmingly centred around the work that needs to be done at all career stages to ensure that choices for women about careers and a rich personal life are not mutually exclusive.

Flexible working is helping women to achieve a degree of balance, but they are still working hard – often over working – and doing the school run. And they are not always in the room to influence decisions. In financial services in particular there is a move back to working a full week in the office. Paul Cunningham, CFO Helios Investment Partners, pointed out that there is work to be done to educate men because they are still overwhelmingly making the decisions about how people’s careers progress.

For Mariam Yusuff, a business training and development consultant, the key issue centres on what having it all means. ‘For me having a work-life balance and knowing that in work I am represented, appreciated and respected means a lot.’ In her opinion the debate has to go back to the organisations and the way they put in place policies to encourage and support women, and then follow them through.

The key takeaways included:

• ‘Balance’ is nuanced and highly individual. For example, it is not just about flexible working.

• Set boundaries and find a role model.

• Be vocal and communicate your needs.

• Jobs need redesigning for now – and that means more work/life flexibility.

• Gender equality begins at home

• Male allyship is a priority.

• Take ownership of your career.

Exploring a global issue

The 1LV debate was prescient. Across the Atlantic, the latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.Org, has recently (October 2023) published findings on the state of women in corporate America. It tells a similar story to that of 1LV.

Overall, the study showed that there have been sizeable gains in US women in senior leadership over the past few years. But there remains lagging progress in the middle of the pipeline. This, combined with a persistent underrepresentation of women of colour means true parity remains out of reach.

The report went on to highlight reasons why this is still the case. It included similar issues to those raised by our panellists around balance and how to achieve it. Importantly, work flexibility is no longer perceived as an added bonus for just some employees; it is key for nearly everyone. Both men and women – high levels of both – pointed to the same primary benefits of being able to work remotely. These include increased efficiency and productivity, less fatigue and burnout as well as a better work/life balance. The study found that on-site work disproportionately affects men – they are more likely to be ‘in the know’ and get the support they need to be successful.

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