Women and the activity/productivity paradox at work

I love a motivational quote. One that caught my eye a while ago (and took me ages to find again) was this:

It came to mind recently when chatting to a family member who has never worked in the commercial world. I mentioned that the majority of my clients have been male, and how much I was enjoying working with a number of female MDs this year. The novelty of having a female client base was lost on her — why was this new?

So, in I waded with my Sheryl Sandberg inspired rhetoric on why women often move on to find more flexible ways of working as many businesses have not accommodated flexibility at a senior level.

My answer still made no sense to her. She questioned the logic by pointing out that a successful business would surely rather have brilliant people working for them even if they did need to leave the office at 4.30pm.

Well, yes!

Women in the workplace wouldn’t have to be the one’s doing all the ‘leaning in’ if businesses were measuring performance effectively in the first place. At the very least, businesses shouldn’t make assumptions about what can and can’t be done during working hours or when those hours should be.

There are plenty of women achieving their targets and objectives by working a shorter week or flexibly. Their male and female counterparts working full time, scale the ladder quicker and are paid more because they are in the office longer, and appear to be doing more. There will be cases however, where activity is equal to productivity but businesses need to identify its correlation.

In a previous role, a colleague suggested to me that a member of my team be rewarded at the upcoming salary reviews. He told me she was the last one to leave every evening and I was lucky to have such a productive person in my team. She was actually my team’s weakest link.

Performance can’t be measured effectively while we are still confusing activity with productivity. Women are more likely to need flexibility if they have a family which is why this perception is more potentially damaging to their careers than to men’s. It is a contributing factor in why businesses fail to retain female talent.

However, men would benefit too. What if men were more comfortable asking for flexibility to leave work early if childcare needs arose rather than thinking they need to be in the office to show commitment to their careers? It balances the pressure in families where both parents work and encourages businesses to culturally embrace flexible working for everyone. This would lead to less ‘clocking hours’ and a happier, more productive work force.

So, in the interest of balance, I’ll leave you with a final quote from another US political figure reminding us not to confuse two other things…


Helen Gawor is Co-founder of The Advantage Machine. We have awesome free tools and content to support business owners and sales teams. Unleash your killer competitive advantage today www.theadvantagemachine.com