How Women Are Leading in the Everywhere Workplace

This new Everywhere Workplace may enable some women to do more with the less time they have.

WOMAN
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We hear a lot about the glass ceiling. We hear a lot about the wage gap. We hear a lot about the fight for women's equality in the workplace. We warn women entering the workforce to expect disparities, sexism and mistreatment. We warn mothers they won't be taken seriously if they take time off.

This is all real. It's all valid. And it's all critical to keep front of mind.

But here's what we don't talk about enough: Women are out here crushing it. No, really. We're crushing it.

I don't mean this in a patronizing "nice job, ladies, you met the minimum standard and managed to function in a man's world" type of way. I mean we're beginning to view barriers as arbitrary social constructs. We're succeeding not on patriarchal, traditional terms, but on our own terms. We're setting our own standards. We're not waiting for someone to give us a seat at the table. We're pulling up a chair — or, better yet, building our own table.

None of this is to minimize the very real threats that exist — for all women, and particularly those with intersecting, marginalized identities. Microaggression, exclusion and downright violence occurs every day.

We're a long way away from closing that wage gap or helming 50% of Fortune 500 companies. I'm definitely not saying we should abandon those efforts — they're essential. And yet, they're not the whole story. Those are all measures of success put in place by a structure that was built by, favors and elevates men. If we gauge our success only by those standards, we'll feel inadequate and inferior when that couldn't be further from the truth.

The problem lies in assuming that we're only, finally equal when we achieve those metrics.

Meanwhile, we're out here setting and smashing new standards — of thought leadership, of decisive action, of advocacy, of creativity, of innovation, of adaptability and resilience — all things that aren't as easy to quantify and might not get the glossy headlines or titles but are making a real, substantive difference.

To be sure, they're doing it in very public ways too. President Biden's staff is majority women — but the less publicly heralded jobs are no less critical. By the start of 2020, women held just over 50% of the labor market in the United States.

And you know what happened next. The pandemic highlighted a searing truth that has long marked the difference between men and women in the American workforce: No matter how many hours women spend in a job that's considered part of the labor market, they're still filling dual or even triple roles as wage earners and primary caregivers while also handling the vast majority of household work.

The idea that women are "behind" in the labor economy is misogynism at its finest. Not only does it hold women to a standard set by men, but it also does so while expecting so much more at home and failing to provide the infrastructure to make that expectation remotely reasonable, let alone sustainable without sacrificing mental and physical health. Add to that the discrimination and abuse that women suffer all too often in the workplace (the #MeToo movement made serious strides but there's much work to be done) and it's an absolute miracle that women are showing up every day getting it done. And not only showing up, but making things happen. It's not a coincidence that the pandemic saw so many women innovating to help companies navigate unprecedented upheaval and navigate the abrupt shift to remote work. The world has given us lots of practice adapting quickly to situations that weren't built for our comfort or convenience.

So no, we're not "behind." We're leading the way.

And yet, just because we can pull off this jaw-dropping juggling act of domestic duties and wage earning while battling against injustice doesn't mean we should have to.

Perhaps the new advocacy for women shouldn't be to make sure we achieve equal "status" and recognition if that equality means upholding patriarchal standards while failing to accommodate the realities of our lives, our needs and our imbalanced responsibilities.

Ironically, the same pandemic that disproportionately overburdened women also opened up some pathways toward respite. Among them: Flexibility, reduced commuting time, more family time, an increased focus on mental health, and far fewer people commenting on the length of our skirts. The workplace has been humanized, with noisy family members and pets and dirty dishes in the background (though to be fair, this too didn't occur equally, nor is it judged equally).

This new Everywhere Workplace may enable some women to do more with the less time they have. It isn't a complete solution — far from it, and it doesn't equally accommodate frontline workers who don't have the option to work remotely. But it's setting a foundation for many women, and corporate America at large, to build upon.

Many people are calling for women to speak their minds more, to respectfully disagree, to ask for what they need, and to not apologize for expertise. But that's only the beginning. To encourage all this without rethinking the whole idea and traditional measures of success is to set women up as antagonists and disrupters. That still means an uphill battle. I'd rather see an environment where women aren't fighting against the existing power structures but rather building new ones where they're the pillars — not the people chipping away at those pillars.

If it sounds unlikely — or like too much of a change — recall how different the business world was 18 months ago. Change happens. We're automating, we're securing data and endpoints the same whether they're down the hall or around the globe. The Everywhere Workplace means a lot of the existing structure has been dismantled and reconsidered. Now that the business landscape has transformed, we have an opportunity to ensure that it's not rebuilt using the same bricks as before.

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