Flexible Workplace Helps Women Advance

January 8, 2015 8:58 pm

By Barbara Frankel

High-Achieving Women and Husbands

Photo by Shutterstock

Shelly Swanback leads Global Business Operations for Accenture Digital, overseeing 28,000 people and $5 billion in revenue. She has two children, 13 and 10.

Michelle Blieberg heads Global Development and Corporate HR for Time Warner. She has three children, 17, 14 and 11.

Dr. D. Sangeeta leads Nielsen’s Global Measurement Science organization and was recently appointed Chief Diversity Officer. She has one daughter, a college student.

Carrie Hall has been a New York Life agent since 1988 and is a member of the 2014 Chairman’s Council, ranking in the top 3 percent of New York Life’s salesforce of more than 12,000 agents. She has two children, 17 and 14.

Jill Campbell is Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of Cox Communications. She has three children, 29, 20 and 9, and a 1-year-old granddaughter.

Melissa Barnes is Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer and Senior Vice President, Enterprise Risk Management at Eli Lilly and Company. She has three children, 20, 17 and 10.

Plan in Advance. Before starting a family, talk with your spouse/partner and family about what’s realistic.Be Careful About Choosing An Employer. Before you go to work at a company, make sure they have family-friendly policies and are known as an inclusive employer. Check out the demographics of their senior executives. If you don’t see women there, look elsewhere.Communicate Clearly at Home. As jobs change, kids grow and expectations change, make sure you and your spouse/partner keep discussing what works best for everyone.Communicate Clearly at Work. If you need more flexibility, or your current position isn’t working, talk to your boss. If you are a high performer, they will probably be able to accommodate you. But you never know if you don’t ask.Don’t Let Guilt Get to You. Don’t let guilt cause you to doubt your capabilities. Do the best you can but know that you can’t be all things to all people and that priorities shift over time.


Top Management Should Set Examples. As Pat Esser at Cox Communications (No. 18 in the DiversityInc Top 50) does, let your leaders show they have their own family needs and that the CEO personally cares about an inclusive culture.

Top 50 CEO Involvement
Chairs Diversity Council 54%
Ties Compensation to Diversity Goals 92%
Sits on Board of Multicultural Nonprofit 24%


Use Mentoring to Help. At Top 50 companies, an average of 35 percent of managers are involved in formal, cross-cultural mentoring programs. Mentors can be invaluable supporters. Some Top 50 companies, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers (No. 5), have specific programs for mentoring moms.

Have Formal Mentoring
National (SHRM) 18%
Top 50 100


Talk to Your Valued Employees Often. AT&T (No. 10) has “stay” interviews with high-potentials early and frequently to find out what issues, including family responsibilities, will keep them from staying and succeeding. Top 50 companies increasingly demonstrate their top executives’ willingness to communicate with employees.

Top 50 Senior Execs Hear Employee Concerns
Sponsor ERGs 41%
Serve as Mentors 100%

Click here to read how these six women executives managed their careers in partnership with progressively run companies.


These women defy a recent Harvard Business School study that shows high-achieving women are not meeting their career goals because their spouse’s career take precedence.

The HBR study of 25,000 male and female graduates over several decades found that the men were significantly more likely to be in senior-management positions. What made headlines was that the women weren’t “opting out” but instead were putting their husband’s careers first. That shift was continuing with Gen X women, with most saying their careers continue to take a back seat to their spouse’s.

There are two major differentiating factors in the success of the six women profiled here—spouses who lead or fully share the responsibilities of childcare, and employers who recognize their value and offer fully supportive environments. All of these women work at DiversityInc Top 50 companies, where family-friendly benefits and inclusive cultures are far more prevalent.

What Data Show

Having a truly flexible workplace is more common these days, but it isn’t universal. And when it comes to time off, most companies don’t exceed the Family and Medical Leave Act requirements of 12 weeks’ unpaid leave, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Consider these differences between the Top 50 and other companies:

National (SHRM) Top 50
Offer Telecommuting/Flexible Hours 59% 100%
Offer Paid Paternity Leave 12% 76%

These benefits and other diversity-management initiatives lead to corporate cultures where women with families stay and are promoted more often.

National Top 50
Women in Management 37% (EEOC) 42%
Women in Senior Management 14.6% (Catalyst) 29.3%

The stories of women like Shelly, Michelle, D., Carrie, Jill and Melissa illustrate why they are able to be successful at work—and at home.

Click here to read how these six women executives managed their careers in partnership with progressively run companies.