The Future of Working

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"Those of us in leadership positions can rewrite the rules of the corporate workplace-for women in banking, and for that matter for every person in every industry. And having made it to the top, we have no one to blame but ourselves if we don't."

-Irene Dorner, CEO of HSBC USA

Let's imagine it's 2022. Women are now equal partners at every level in banking and finance, from cashier to the C-suite. In getting there, they've adjusted the workplace's culture, policies, and practices so that everyone can do their utmost at work and also take care of themselves and their families, through good times and bad. The change has been backed enthusiastically by men who want to be involved fathers, by anyone caring for ailing parents, by millennials who insist on having a life, by baby boomers who want to retire gradually and by workers of all stripes who are in revolt against the new expectation of 24/7 availability. In doing so, they've discovered that flexibility leads to higher productivity, better retention, better recruitment, better customer service, improved worker wellness and other measurable business benefits.

What does this new workplace look like? Of course, no one can really know. A decade can bring unforeseen and dramatic technological and social transformations. (Cf: Facebook, 9/11, algorithmic trading.) But some banks already are experimenting with new approaches to allow us to both work and live to our utmost potential-in ways that may offer clues to our future.

Somewhere in the early 2010s, the financial services industry realized that women's careers had been-unconsciously, unintentionally-slowed down by attitudes and assumptions about what it took to be a good worker. After all, career paths and workplace conventions had been invented by men, for men, back when wives stayed home taking care of house, family and social life.

"Men didn't intend this to happen; it's simply human nature," says Irene Dorner, CEO of HSBC USA. "People create working environments hospitable to people who are similar to themselves. In industries dominated by men, the rules of the game favor men."

In the decade before our future workplace was built, most big banks already had formal mentoring programs, diversity councils, leadership development training, and even flex-time options. But those policies weren't enough to counter the unspoken idea, for instance, that taking family leave, or going parttime for a few years, or wrapping work hours around the school schedule was only for women with no ambitions.

Once banks and finance firms woke up to the fact that the unspoken rules were hurting everyone-depriving banks of talent, unfairly holding women back, confining men into falsely straitened roles-industry leaders started rewriting the policies, rules, and practices to reward managers (and everyone) for making conscious decisions that ran exactly counter to those outdated work and thought patterns. Like State Street, they started requiring managers to launch assessments of flexible working patterns, measuring staff by their results instead of their presence. Like Deloitte, they started to portray careers not as ladders but as lattices, asking employees if they wanted to "dial up" or "dial down" at any given time, without being permanently sidelined. Like Bank of America, they began to base executive performance reviews in part on their teams' diversity. Like USAA, they started to let workers stay home, deploying new communications technologies to nurture team spirit and morale despite the lack of physical proximity.

To make these informal shifts, they measured, analyzed and fine-tuned their way into destigmatizing flexibility by making it the rule, not the exception. That made it easier for women to interweave their work and family lives and to stay committed to demanding careers-meanwhile improving morale, recruitment, retention, and productivity across the board. "Flexibility is something that all your employees need, not just working moms," explains Lisa Horn, Co-Director of the Society for Human Resource Management's Workplace Flexibility Initiative. "Military families. Employees of different faith communities. Disabled communities. Millennials, who are very focused on their life outside work. People taking care of their aging parents and relatives. Getting the best out of all your people means giving them some level of autonomy over how, when, and where they do their best work."

By 2022, no one any longer uses the phrase "work-life balance"- because we've realized that balance doesn't exist. At some points in your life, you're excited about working from dawn until you drop. At others, you want to leave at 3:30 p.m. for the kids' holiday pageant, working again after their bed times. At still other points, you need to be on call for your rapidly deteriorating father. (One in five workers is currently caring for an elder-and one in two expects to be within the next few years.) The only balance possible is the balance you get over a lifetime. What you need from your career-and in your workplace- is measured flexibility.

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