Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chambers of Commerce: Take Notice

By Ellen Cutter, Director of Research.

The Atlantic’s cover story this month exposes the myth that, in fact, women can “have it all” – achieving the highest rungs of career success while balancing a strong commitment to one’s family and relationships. Author Ann-Marie Slaughter, former Dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department from 2009 – 2011, notes that despite the progress in access to education and employment opportunities, women are simply not making it to the top. Globally, women account for only four percent of heads of state and 13 percent of parliament members. In the corporate sector, women hold only 15 percent of C-level jobs or board positions. So, what gives?
Ms. Slaughter points out only when we have equal representation among the highest ranks of public and private sector leadership will it indicate that we have created a society that works for everyone, men and women. This leadership gap can be explained in many ways, and the subsequent lines of dialog at The Atlantic are fascinating. But the bottom line is that many women find it difficult to own up to their family responsibilities and desires for flexibility in their professional lives at the risk of not fitting in with their company’s culture or coming off as less committed to their careers.

Over and over again, we hear in our work at Market Street that finding qualified, skilled workers is a top concern of employers, regardless of the type of community in which they are located. Women make up half of the workforce, yet the rigid, on-call 24 hour a day culture in corporate America serves as a disincentive to remain engaged in the workforce after starting a family.

This is a huge problem from an economic development perspective. If highly skilled workers are dropping out of the workforce because they cannot square the responsibilities of having a family with those demanded by their career, prudent communities (particularly those facing labor shortage issues) would find it smart to work with their corporate community to promote more family friendly work policies.

Chambers of commerce, take note. This is not about the “Google-ization” of your local workplaces by putting ping pong tables in break rooms, it’s about flexible work hours and arrangements so that workers who are also parents feel that they have a legitimate choice between raising children and working – that they truly can manage both, and do so successfully. Chambers are in the unique position to further this dialog among their community’s leadership and I hope they do.