Future of networking: Networking is fundamental to career progression for everyone. More than three quarters of all jobs are filled via networking and those who interact with senior leaders on a regular basis are more likely to ask for and receive promotions, remain within their organization and aspire to reach the top. With the trend towards more home working, there needs to be even more importance placed on collaboration and networking, both formal and informal. It is important to remember that networking means different things to different people: it does not have to be an evening cocktail party or a day at the golf course.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Joy Burnford.

Joy Burnford is the Founder and CEO of Encompass Equality and a recognised gender equality trailblazer. With over 25 years’ experience as a business leader, non-executive director, podcast host and speaker, she supports organizations to navigate a path to gender equality through research, consulting, coaching and leadership programs. Joy’s first book, ‘Don’t fix women: the practical path to gender equality at work’, is out now and it is through a lens of gender equality that these responses have been written. Note on gender: For the purposes of this article reference is made to men and women (which includes anyone that identifies as a woman).

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

I am the child of a single mother who was, and still is, an amazing role model. She worked tirelessly as a dance teacher and dance shop owner to enable my sister and I to have the best start in life. Even though there could have been many barriers in the way to me achieving my career ambitions, I was given the best possible education and opportunities when the story could have been so different. Her own selflessness was a lesson in itself and I never felt that being a girl would hold me back. She has also just published a book, a few weeks ahead of mine! (‘Dance for your life: Steps to better health with stories to inspire’)

Despite this early ambition, I did experience a rollercoaster of confidence early in my career when I hit my twenties: my confidence at work started to decline as I was constantly comparing myself to others and working in a very male-dominated industry, which didn’t help. Five years ago, I discovered coaching and that confidence is a skill that can be learned and this inspired me to set up a business called My Confidence Matters to enable every woman to have confidence to progress in their career.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

In terms of what will be the same, I believe flexible working is (thankfully) here to stay and will become the norm in a way we wouldn’t have expected before the pandemic. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done as businesses adapt, but I think many steps have been taken in the right direction to make flexibility more accessible.

As for what will change, I predict there will be less taboo in the workplace around topics such as menopause, miscarriage and fertility issues. These topics are now becoming part of workplace conversations; one in ten workplaces in the UK now have menopause policies in place at the time of writing — such as paid menopause leave — and I can only see this increasing and becoming a standard part of company policy and procedure. Organizations that are putting things like menopause on their wellbeing agenda will be those that will win the race to gender equality.

What I sincerely hope will change is that there will be more gender equality in the workplace and more women in leadership positions. The most significant issue for companies, when it comes to gender equality, is the leaky pipeline and retaining women to progress into more senior roles. There is much work to be done in improving an outdated working system that wasn’t designed for women to thrive. I can see some of the right steps being taken and I would hope that in 15 years the workplace is better suited to women and their needs.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

We know that gender equality is still a huge problem for organizations. I believe businesses need to work to remove the obstacles that women face in their careers and create more inclusive and attractive workplaces in the future to benefit everyone.

Women are leaving, or thinking about leaving, their corporate careers in droves (one in three women considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce in 2021). We also know that having more women and a more diverse workforce has a clear benefit for the bottom line. We need to fix the cultural frameworks that currently hold women back in the workplace; organizations must take action to create gender-balanced cultures for the future, where women can function, flourish, and most importantly, remain.

To do this, employers and managers need to adjust the work environment through three cultural frameworks — flexibility, allyship and coaching — to enable all employees to stay and thrive in work. These frameworks, which are outlined in detail in my book, contribute to creating a level playing field for women and also enable a better work environment for all.

Like any culture change, this needs to be led from the top; leaders that adapt their leadership style will become more inclusive and become better allies to those that need them most.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Flexibility: there is already a disconnect between the desire of employers to have people in the office, compared to what individual employees want and need to achieve a balanced way of life. To reconcile this gap employers need to understand why a culture of flexibility is important and beneficial to everyone — it enables all employees to fit life and work together with no detrimental effect on productivity. It also helps organizations retain talent and leads to a happier, more engaged, trusted and motivated workforce.

Personalization is also vital, because everyone should be able to work in a way that suits them as an individual and their circumstances. Personalized flexibility is about recognizing that your people are all individuals, with differing needs at different stages of their lives.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on networking and creating valuable connections with people in innovative ways. When people are working virtually, companies would be wise to consider how they cultivate connections and communication between teams and be sure they are offering regular check-ins so employees are receiving the support they need in the future. Those working from home all the time may be dealing with new challenges such as loneliness, anxiety and depression and so monitoring this is important.

That being said, it’s heartening to see that many organizations have moved health and wellbeing to the top of the agenda: there is much more focus now on giving people the support they need to be healthy, happy and productive, with a cultural shift away from being ‘always on’, overworked and burnt out. Even once the pandemic is behind us, we all need to ensure this remains high on the business agenda.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

One way this can be improved is encouraging more uptake of shared parental leave where both parents have active parenting responsibilities, so that it isn’t just the women’s domain. Many men now do take on more childcare and other responsibilities in the home. However, there is still a lot more that needs to change to create better balance of responsibilities. Men can be an ally in the home as well as in the workplace, for example taking on some of the ‘mental load’ (the ‘invisible work’ that covers tasks like thinking, planning and organizing a household, family and a job) or taking the responsibility for end-to-end tasks like managing school or sports-related activities, shopping or cooking — not just picking up a delegated task from a to-do list.

Another suggestion is for employers to plan for a year’s sabbatical or leave for every single employee (which may be maternity, paternity or other leave), so it becomes part of the fabric of the organization and takes away any stigma attached to taking leave.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I would love to see a world in which there are more opportunities for employees to fit work around life, rather than life around work. Businesses are waking up to the needs of their employees and realizing that they will lose talent if they don’t create inclusive and supportive workplaces, which are open to flexibility and actively support the development of their employees. This will be beneficial to everyone, and I hope will be a significant factor in retaining more women in the workplace.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Returning to the theme of personalization, one way to improve health and wellbeing is allowing everyone that works in an office or similar environment the flexibility to work around core hours of work (e.g. 09:30–15:30). This can reset expectations around being ‘in’ the office earlier and later and gives them more freedom to decide the most effective working pattern on any given day. It also avoids a culture of presenteeism and e-presenteeism.

Some organizations offer employees a Workplace Adjustment Passport, so that there is a mutually agreed set of adjustments that stays with an employee throughout their career providing information to new managers without a need for a new conversation every time they move roles. This could include things like a different type of seat or desk for someone with a disability, or a fan for someone suffering from menopausal symptoms.

Another successful initiative I’ve witnessed is creating a workplace system of ‘non-negotiables’: everyone is able to put their own non-negotiables in their diary, which could be childcare related, or it could be something like a yoga class or a dog walk. There is no judgement and it is clear that each individual can ring-fence certain activities and work will not override it. This helps to change the culture so that non-work activities become something to be celebrated and accepted, rather than frowned upon.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

If leaders look at this through a gender lens, women can face a perfect storm of challenges whilst they are working — whether that is having a baby, managing fertility treatment, dealing with difficult menopausal symptoms or caring for a child or elderly relative. This can often result in women not applying for and reaching more senior roles or leaving the workforce altogether. By changing the system and adjusting traditional practices and policies, these obstacles can be more easily managed and overcome.

These changes have to come from the top: leaders must consider what needs to change within their organizations to remove these obstacles and how they can use their power and influence to make these things happen. These can’t be ‘tick box’ exercises; leaders need to assess whether they are offering their people what they need and do all they can within their power to ensure people stay.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

  1. Shared responsibility for childcare: Sharing childcare should become the norm in the future — it’s not just a mother’s job. If more men can take on caring responsibilities, they will act as role models for others in their organizations too and help to change the entrenched societal norms in the home. I recently spoke to a contact at TSB Bank plc who was responsible for pushing through changes to its shared parental leave policy: all new parents are offered a year’s leave with their child, with the first 20 weeks at full pay. With organizations offering such benefits to staff, it should be a lot easier for men and women to be able to take the leave. There is also a lot we can learn from the Nordic countries, which are leading the way here and recognizing a better balance in both the home and the workplace.
  2. Job-sharing: Particularly at senior levels, which will enable more women to take on leadership positions. I am often amazed that job sharing has not become more prevalent, given the benefits it can offer. Charlotte Cherry and Alix Ainsley, who job-share the role of Director of Talent & Learning at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK, are a great example: they took on their first shared role at Lloyds Banking Group in 2016 and have moved together sharing roles at different organizations. They prove that a job share can not only facilitate better work/life balance, but can also boost each other’s confidence which can lead to accelerated career progression.
  3. Future of networking: Networking is fundamental to career progression for everyone. More than three quarters of all jobs are filled via networking and those who interact with senior leaders on a regular basis are more likely to ask for and receive promotions, remain within their organization and aspire to reach the top. With the trend towards more home working, there needs to be even more importance placed on collaboration and networking, both formal and informal. It is important to remember that networking means different things to different people: it does not have to be an evening cocktail party or a day at the golf course. I heard a great example of this at Wickes plc, where they introduced a ‘Walk and Talk’ initiative, to recreate the missing ‘watercooler moments’ you get in the office. Every two weeks, everyone within the 120-person digital and marketing team was given the opportunity to put their name into a random generator and was matched with another person — they then received an email telling them who they were paired with so that they could reach out and arrange a time to chat. The conversation had to be non-work-related, conducted by telephone, rather than a video chat, and they were encouraged to go out and walk to get exercise, too. In a hybrid-working world, this is a great way to create connections across organizations.
  4. Empathetic leaders: I believe that leadership styles will change and that developing inclusive leaders with ‘D&I in their DNA’ is key. There will be more emphasis on emotional intelligence, empathy and purpose as well as profit and productivity. In 2020 I ran a study entitled ‘Rethinking leadership through a gender lens — new ways of working as a result of Covid-19’. It showed that a consequence of remote working was that organizations and people managers had a greater insight into the wider context of employees’ lives outside of work. And a staggering 92% of those who had seen a change in their manager’s leadership style said that their level of empathy and understanding had increased. The challenge we have moving into the future is ensuring that inclusive leadership traits, like empathy, are rewarded and encouraged.
  5. Personalization: Businesses must recognize that people are more than a number — they must look at every employee as an individual and understand their challenges and obstacles. Work needs to be able to adapt to fit into people’s lives, not the other way around. Brian McNamara, CEO of Haleon (previously GSK Consumer Healthcare), told me that throughout his career he has seen women bow out of the general management promotion process because they either have children and they are the primary caregiver, or their spouse works and they don’t have the opportunity to put their career first. However, he shared an example of how the career choice someone makes one year can be entirely different to the choice they make in the future: Teri Lyng headed up the Quality function at GSK, hired by McNamara, and three years ago sought to reduce her working days due to personal matters. She could have resigned and left the firm, but instead McNamara and Lyng had an open and honest conversation about what she needed at that point in her career: working part-time, three days a week. Together they looked at her role, changed the organizational structure and added in different leaders to reduce her number of direct reports; this worked well. A year and a half later, Lyng’s personal situation changed, the business needed her experience and skills, and she was keen to return to full-time hours. She is now in McNamara’s leadership team, leading Consumer Healthcare Transformation and Sustainability — a business-critical function.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’

We can’t wait to make change happen. Every individual needs to take responsibility today so that small ripples have a cascading effect and create big change. So, first check your own behavior and then check the speed at which you want change to happen. If you didn’t plant a tree 20 years ago, can you plant one today?

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Her leadership style and her compassionate response during the pandemic and the terrorist attack in Christchurch in 2019 should be heralded as an example to us all. Her style exemplifies how and why vulnerability makes better leaders.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Continue the conversation at www.dontfixwomen.com and connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.