2006 brings familiar trends


Published: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 11:30 p.m.
What's ahead this year for working people who want to have a life - and a job?
The answer may lie in whether you work for a large or small firm, according to a recent national study of employers by the Families and Work Institute, based in New York.
"Small businesses are helping to drive changes in the structure of work, offering employees more opportunities for workplace flexibility, while large employers are providing more benefits that have direct costs," according to the report.
Small businesses, those with 50 to 99 employees, are offering more flexibility than larger companies when it comes to returning to work after childbirth or adoption, time off from the regular workday for continuing education and phasing into retirement.
Large businesses - those with 1,000 or more employees - are offering such benefits as 401(k) retirement plans, on-site and backup child care, and employee assistance programs.
"Most of these changes that make work really work for employers and employees appear to be here to stay," is the reassuring observation of Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the institute. "In no case was there a statistically significant decrease in flexibility now offered."
New benefits include longer leave for new fathers, health insurance for unmarried partners and elder-care resources.
Most employers do not offer benefits just to make workers happy. In fact, 47 percent report they do so to recruit and retain employees and 22 percent say they want to increase productivity and loyalty.
The report also suggests that major obstacles to more work/life programs in the coming year are cost and that only 31 percent of the companies studied report that management supports advocates of flexible working arrangements in their organizations.
And that, of course, is a problem. Women of color: The new year presents familiar challenges for women of color.
"There is a stubborn lack of progress in promoting women of color to senior management positions," according to the Network of Executive Women, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization of women in the consumer products and retail industry. "Executive women of color are a vastly underutilized business resource."
Will the old story of women of color being "in the pipeline" for promotions continue to be offered as an excuse by management in 2006?
"We've run out of excuses," said Trudy Bourgeois, president and CEO of the Center for Workforce Excellence in Plano, Texas. "It's not a pipeline issue. It's an emotion issue. It's about the willingness of people to change. A lot of lip service is being paid ... but in order to thrive, organizations must fully engage every employee and fully serve every consumer."
Some things don't change: After Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard University, shocked people with his derogatory comments about women in science and engineering, another negative voice was heard: Neil French, worldwide creative director of WPP Group, voiced the same opinions about women in advertising.
French had the decency to resign; Summers did not.
And the sexist attitude expressed by these top leaders that care-giving responsibilities render women ineffective won't abate in 2006 unless employed women and their organizations do something about it, according to Deborah M. Kolb, professor at Simmons College of Management in Boston.
Kolb, co-author of "Her Place at the Table: A Woman's Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success" (Jossey-Bass, $27.95), says these put-downs "lead to limited opportunities and turnover." In response, women, therefore, must "proactively negotiate for their own opportunities. Companies need to pay attention to inequities in the assignments they give."
"They can also be more creative in the way they structure work, so that people can better manage their work and personal lives," she said.
Happy New Year! Carol Kleiman welcomes questions/comments about her columns. Write her c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Send e-mail to: ckleiman@tribune.com.

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