Shipman and Kay: Flexible Workplace Policies Bolster the Bottom Line

News Updates

Shortly after joining ABC News as a senior consultant for "Good Morning America” in 2001, Claire Shipman learned she had been branded a “nonjumper.” And not in a good way.

“It’s just that everyone else at this company jumps and you don’t,” she recalls being told by one exasperated network executive. The fact that, unlike her colleagues, she was unwilling to put the demands of the network above all else made her “complicated,” she was warned.    

Shipman and her bosses eventually worked out their differences. Still, she remains fervent about the need for workplace policies that will help all workers meet the competing demands of work and family she faced, she told Society for Human Resource Management members attending the organization’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference March 18, 2010, in Washington, D.C.  Such policies are particularly important for women, who still bear most of the responsibility for caring for family members, she said.

Joined by Katty Kay of BBC News, with whom she authored Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success (HarperCollins, 2009), she argued that such policies are not only good for workers, they are also good for the bottom line.

“There is an incredibly strong business case for having flexibility,” Kay said. “If you are working for a company that is losing talented women, then you know the price.”

Even as women are surpassing men in degrees and qualifications, without policies that allow for flexibility, they are increasingly opting out of jobs requiring round-the-clock commitment.

“Time is becoming the new currency,” Shipman said.

Despite a growing body of research correlating corporate profitability with women in leadership positions, most U.S. organizations have been slow to embrace policies that give women the flexibility they need to balance the demands of work and home, Shipman and Kay said. They encouraged human resource professionals to take the lead in convincing top brass of the business case for flexible workplace policies. Among their recommendations:

  • Take a critical look at what the company is doing to promote flexibility. Expand programs that work for all workers, not just to a chosen few.
  • Establish benchmarks to measure performance that are based on productivity.
  • “De-stigmatize” the notion of flexibility.
  • Consider flexibility an issue of interest to all workers, not just women.
  • Broaden your definition of what it takes to become a leader in your organization.

Rita Zeidner is a senior writer for SHRM.