Examining our world of work

I don’t subscribe to many podcasts but a few months ago I came across the Harvard Business Review’s ‘Women at Work’ podcast series. My interest was piqued and I downloaded Series 1. Series 2 has just kicked off and I’d honestly recommend it to everyone. Focusing on a different theme each episode, the hosts discuss their experiences of being women in the workplace but also examine formal research in the area. (Much of which is available on HBR). Obviously, these podcasts are part of a much bigger movement which is questioning topics including women’s position in society, inequalities and sexual harassment.

I’ve taken something from every Women at Work podcast episode. I’ve got to say that I work in a super, small and inclusive team although I still find the wider transport sector to be too male-dominated particularly given the fact that we are trying to design inclusive transport systems. The Women at Work discussions have prompted me to see and then question the inherent biases – expectations, cultures and perceptions – facing women in the work environment. I’m sometimes surprised by the things that I hadn’t previously recognised. For example, in the first episode of Series 2, the hosts discuss the fact that women, in general, spend more of their working hours on ‘non-promotable tasks’ than men at the same level of seniority. These are tasks including office housework (like watering the office plants, ordering lunch, and taking the minutes in meetings) as well as many other routine jobs which don’t support career progression. The patterns here are complex and include the fact that women tend to feel the pressure to volunteer for these jobs more than men, but also that they are asked to do them more often by managers (and are reluctant to say no when asked). It’s easy to see why men might progress faster in organisations if they’ve had more time to concentrate on promotable tasks compared to their female counterparts.

I’m left examining my own actions and attitudes as a woman who wants to keep her career progressing, but also as a colleague to other women. I think it is important to note though, that we shouldn’t have to be anything different – we shouldn’t act more ‘male’ – but that our work environments should see the value in a diverse workforce and allow all to prosper.

On a related note, I’m also excited to be starting to read Deep Work by Cal Newport which examines the distractions we face while working and our tendency to low-value, shallow work. More on this once I’ve finished the book!

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