Successful women who have invested heavily in their careers rarely choose blithely to drop out of the workforce once they start a family. And it is slowly becoming more acceptable for men to share parenting responsibilities so that both partners can keep their careers alive.
Forward-thinking companies keen to retain and attract talent in the upper echelons of management are exploring and extending opportunities for flexible working. Modern technology is crucial in enabling communication and co-operation from remote locations.
I spoke to two professional women about their experience of working for HSBC, where flexibility and balance are now central to business and employment practice. HSBC has clear policies in place: a visible “flex network,” which hosts events to promote flexible working and communicate it to others. It also hosts a “balance network” across the world, which encourages people to talk openly about the challenges of balancing work and life.
Negotiating The Return From Maternity Leave
Jane Johnson negotiated her return to work after maternity leave–as a senior director at HSBC–through a job-share.
“I kept in touch with colleagues over maternity leave; it’s important not to disappear. I had a conversation early, told them I was definitely coming back and had an open dialogue about how it might work.
“They came up with the person I job-shared with; in fact, I didn’t meet her until the day I started… You have to trust the hiring manager; they know what skills they need. Also, generations before us haven’t had this opportunity and you want to make it work, so you do. My job-sharer sat down and told me, ‘I’m really ambitious, but I cannot be ambitious against you; that’s never going to work. If you spot it, you have to call it out.’ It worked really well and we’re still good friends. It was a fantastic five years.”
Johnson left HSBC to set up her own recruitment agency specializing in flexible senior PR and communications roles, Feel Communications.
Returning To Work After A (Short) Career Break
Natasha Plowman, now global head of communications strategy and digital at HSBC Commercial Banking, gave up her job at Diageo after her daughter was born. She kept her hand in through freelancing and broadening her experience with start-ups, mostly unpaid. When her daughter turned three she decided to return to work.
Feel Communications helped Plowman negotiate her new role with flexibility up front. She now works full time with two days a week at home. Plowman explains: “I needed flexibility. My husband works in the city and he works flexibly too. We are a team. I do the morning drop-off, and he does the pick-up.”
She is quick to stress that flexibility must be for everyone–it is not just a women’s issue . It works for her family because she and her husband both work flexibly and they also rely on help from other parents and grandparents at crucial times.
“Flexibility goes both ways. If I need to be in the office when I’m normally working from home, I have to be willing to make other arrangements. At HSBC all our roles have an element of flexibility. It means different things to different people. I like to work at home; for some, it is a job-share.”
Plowman explains: “It is all about what works for you and your team. Communication is key and it comes down to trust—how, when and where you will get the job done.”
Making Flex Work: Conscious Planning, Clear Communication And Building Relationships
Knowing yourself is really important: know how you work and how you work best.
Plan consciously accordingly based on what you do best in different environments.
Open conversation is critical. Be confident and honest about asking for what you need and how that benefits the business.
Recognize the importance of building relationships. Prioritize relationship-building at the office. Arrange face-to-face meetings and plan team meetings at a time that works for everyone.
Use technology successfully to keep conversations alive when you are not in the office. Do not let things slip so that all conversation happens via email.