One of the reasons that women are having trouble in positions of escalating leadership is that men still see, and we ourselves, just expect that females are the "primary" caregivers and therefore should a more serious illness arise then giving "Jane" a really important client project requiring potential trips outside the city or further, is probably not going to happen.
From experience (and mine are 15, 17 and 19) even though my husband and I are often in the same meeting or seminar or presentation when the cell starts vibrating to the point of embarrassment (and it isn't my husband's that's sounding off) its obvious that the rest of the world also sees us as the first point of contact, and off I go. But frankly that's because my position allows me that flexibility and we have employees. But this is still not a good thing. I sometimes wonder what the guys I work with think.
Right or wrong, where and how do we adjust not only school records, but attitudes, so that we can comfortably expect that we can be equally responsible with our mates or ex-mates for sick children and in some cases elder parents. It just isn't reasonable to burden one spouse over the other when our positions are of equal or greater business significance.
That becomes much more strained when the mother is the parental custodian and she owns her own business or sits on the board of a major corporation. This is where innovation and technology (a kudo for our industry) just might save the day. Here's a few ways you can accomplish this in the case of a short or long term absence from the office:
- Are you using Mobile 6 with Exchange? A "cannot live without" for me. I am never out of touch with my email. I am as current as my laptop hooked up at the office and with mobile Word and Excel I can still handle certain documents while sitting in the emergency room.
- Does your company use collaboration software? Having access to everything via a secure portal like WSS of better yet MOSS Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server ensures you can not only access work on and update but also immediately have that work land in the hands of those that need it without doing anything more than checking it back in when you're done.
- Need to start up a workspace for a quick and secure discussion on a client file with document sharing? Hello Groove. Part of the Office 2007 family this little gem also has the additional benefit of document synchronization with MOSS.
- Need to hold a small meeting? How about using Live Meeting or Windows Meeting Space (part of Vista). In both cases you can have live interaction with participants and what I love about WMS in particular is the whiteboard. You make changes and then WMS pushes out a new copy to all participants.
Embracing these tools and using them to show your peers, bosses, clients and employees that you can remain as effective as ever while attending to personal issues will go a long way to alleviating some of the "primary care guilt syndrome".
However there is still the debate over just how much is fair. It is a personal matter, but as long as attitudes exist as to your ability to be a leader, then talking with everyone involved in your situation becomes a critical hurdle to jump, but as you have seen with the tools mentioned earlier you can be mobile and still on the ball.
What can we do to help our female peers. First be aware of those who work around you that this issue is one that we can all help others deal with. Being flexible is helpful but moreover letting our male peers know that they can make a big difference by changing their attitudes and that stepping up to the plate for their mate is a major step in the right direction. Chat up your coworkers and tell them what tools you use to manage this issue. Make sure HR has this on their To Do list to review.
As always, bringing it out in the open in your office, is a great way to get the discussion and solutions, rolling.