Cogs for Progress; A rethink on progress in the workplace

Updated: Mar 10, 2019


I was recently looking at a YouTube video with my son about how machines work. The video explained that if one of the clogs in a machine is faulting or doesn't quite fit in with the other two then all the cogs become useless no matter how well they could potentially 'turn'. Thinking about this in relation to women in the workplace I realized the in order for woman, and more specifically mothers, to progress along the talent pipeline we need three main cogs to be oiled up and ready to work at optimum in order for us to succeed;


Cog 1: Personal

This is your foundation cog, the driver of all the other cogs. If this cog isn't working then everything else is at a standstill no matter how hard you try to turn those other cogs.

So what do I mean by your personal cog - well it's really a mixture of your individual values, your beliefs about yourself (self limiting or otherwise) and your network of support. It means being proactive in dealing with the day to day and seasonal #motherload. If you have a full understanding of why you do things, how to make better choices and who can support you then you are well on your way to getting the other cogs moving.


Cog 2: Cultural

In 2016 McKinsey noted that mothers face a double burden in the workplace. Society remains focused on the single primary parent model, with active shared caring still the exception to the rule. At the same time we are moving to an 'always on' performance model which conflicts with women being the primary care giver -- you literally can't be actively parenting and working in the same physical space and time no matter how hard you try.

In order for women to be able to move along the talent pipeline we need our partners and support networks to be willing to step up alongside us. Otherwise we are simply setting ourselves up for failure. As I mention in my blog Where is the Shared Caring Revolution ? in order for us to make corporate workplaces that work for all we need men to be loudly and visibly, willingly stepping up to share the parenthood penalty and the physical and mental load of parenting.

As part of the cultural cog there is also the wider elephant in the room of unconscious bias and lack of inclusive decision making. I cover this in more detail in the next Cog but I do think it is important to recognize that we all could be doing more at an individual level to shift the dial at work to increase diversity, inclusivity and reduce unconscious bias.


Cog Number Three: Structural

This cog is focused around your workplace and specific values, culture and actions that a company can undertake to support, or not, a commitment to diversity of thought.

One way this cog is being slowed down and even derailed is the tyranny of the 'Ideal Worker'. This model of working only suits a narrow group of people but in reality we all face the pressure to conform to this outdated model of working. By continuing to focus on presenteeism , long hours and limited flexibility companies are creating an Inclusion Gap. The Inclusion Gap is the space between diversity potential and the ability to unlock the potential. Simply increasing the number of under-represented groups in your workforce will not lead to inclusive decision making and inclusive decision making is where the magic happens. To activate the critical competitive advantage of inclusive decision making a company needs not only a diverse workforce but a recognition that all members should be actively involved in the decision making process.

One of the main ways that companies can opt out of the Ideal Worker model is through a focus on inclusive agility This requires not only the implementation of agile technology but also inclusive working practices. As part of this flexibility moves from an employee benefit to a fundamental part of a company workplace agility process. If inclusive agility is not embedded as part of a wider workplace agility business case then it really doesn't matter how many policies and arrangements you put in place you will see a stalling of your talent pipeline and a widening of the gender pay gap.


In order for women and in particular mothers to progress everyone needs to make sure that all three cogs are working well. At an individual level women need to pro-actively work on our careers by building up our support networks, working on our imposter syndrome and defining our work values and vision. At a societal level we need a willingness to share the parenthood penalty and move away from the single carer model that is literally wearing women out. At a company level we need a commitment to diversity of thought through a move away from the Ideal Worker model and a focus on inclusive agility to get the female pipeline talent moving. If any one of these cogs is not working at optimum then mothers face an uphill struggle no matter how well the other cogs are oiled.


If you enjoyed this post please check out the rest of my blog here, including my post on the presenteeism conundrum and the uphill challenge of a corporate career.


All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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