This International Women’s Day, Let’s Redefine Success.

3 min read

“In a world that highlights and pushes massive productivity, constant upward growth, busyness, bigness, popularity, more-ness, and continuous upping the [anty] of what it means to be successful, choosing to prioritize spaciousness, time, contentment, alignment, integrity, and Enough is a gift to yourself.” – Lisa Olivera

According to the 2020 Women in the Workplace Study, women remain dramatically underrepresented at every level of corporate America. While the number of women in senior roles has increased a few percentage points in the last five years, the report warns that “as many as two million women are considering taking a leave of absence or leaving the workforce altogether” because of the COVID crisis. This is the first time in the study’s history that women were leaving the workforce at higher rates than men.

This year’s International Women’s Day asks women to issue a challenge for gender equality, especially for Black women and women representing gender and ethnic diversity. To be fair, #ChooseToChallenge asks people to call out inequality and recognize the need for changes in all areas of society, not just in the workplace. That is a crucial first step in creating an anti-racist culture. If we cannot acknowledge what needs to change, we can’t begin to take real action.

Well Done has made a pledge to become a more racially equitable company. You can read more about that here. But for this blog post, I want to issue a different kind of challenge that I think will lead to a more equitable workplace: Let’s redefine what it means to be successful.

COVID-19 has made many of us rethink the life we had been living. It is hard to be home all day, especially with kids in remote classrooms, and a socially distant support system. The stress of the pandemic is affecting everyone but has disproportionately challenged women who tend to have more responsibility in the home to begin with.

For those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs from home, COVID-19 has also accelerated a trend that has been growing in the workplace—flexibility. Our routine no longer has predicated start and stop points. You don’t have to sit at a desk when you’ve finished your work. With good enough Wi-Fi, people can work anywhere—even a Vrbo in Florida. (If you’re interested, I can show you my pictures to prove it.)

Recent surveys of white-collar businesses show that workers will be able to keep a level of flexibility in terms of where they work. But why not take it a step further with policies that acknowledge that not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder and reward people who are still successfully contributing to the company?

How can a company create a success-equitable environment?

For starters:

  • Focus on getting the work done, not the hours it takes to do it.
  • Stop linking seniority with higher salaries.
  • Ask how people want to be rewarded and follow through. Some people want additional vacation days more than they want a raise.
  • Bring teams together in person when needed instead of requiring people to work in the office.
  • Build a professional development program that can be used for classes, certifications, webinars, coaching, and soft-skills training in addition to attending conferences.
  • Offer a sabbatical program for tenured employees.
  • Test out unlimited PTO or allow vacation day sharing.
  • Provide childcare or partner with a provider.
  • Include paid volunteer days in your benefits package.

Bottom line: It is time to stop being myopic when it comes to defining what constitutes a successful woman (or man or nonbinary human). Success is living the life you want to lead, not one that is dictated to you. We will attract and keep more people in the workforce when our culture acknowledges that.