We recently had the opportunity to talk with Katty Kay, anchor for “BBC World News America,” and a regular commentator on NPR, “Meet the Press” and “Morning Joe.” She’s covered presidential elections, scandals and the Middle East, and she’s also a mother of four with first-hand experience juggling family and career. She’s written two books with Claire Shipman (of “Good Morning America” fame): “Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules For Success” (2009) and “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know” (2014).
We asked this expert on women and work to talk about ways in which innovative companies are supporting women in the workforce and how these women are redefining success. Here are some highlights from our conversation at our recent sales conference:
Can you tell us a little about what’s happening with women in the workforce today? And what does the research show about women, flexible work schedules and efficiency?
Katty: “Womenomics” — my first book with Claire Shipman — is full of this kind of research. For example, Harvard issued a report in the early 2000s revealing, for the first time ever, that the American workforce was losing more female lawyers, journalists, financiers and insurance brokers than it was gaining. Women were quitting because the hours were too onerous.
In that book, we tried to look at creative work solutions and we found that companies with alternative work programs saw a rise in productivity. What company wouldn’t want productivity increases? If you treat your employees as grownups and you let them work the way they want to work, then you will see better outcomes. Most companies that adopt alternative work schedules say they will never go back. It’s efficient in terms of commuting and office space and there is a whole load of other benefits that come into play when you allow flexibility.
Also in “Womenomics,” you talked about women writing their own rules for success. Tell me what you mean by that.
Katty Kay: Rethinking what it means to be successful allows parents — because I think it shouldn’t just be women — to balance life’s challenges. We traditionally see careers as a ladder, where you keep climbing up. For women, I find it much more useful to see it as a wave. There are times when you can dial up and there are times when you might choose to dial down. Then you can dial back up again, depending on where you are with your overall life balance.
And whilst I might like the idea of a utopian world where men and women share childrearing equally, it just doesn’t always happen that way. We wrote “Womenomics” to see what it takes for women with children to stay in the workforce without hitting that brick wall of kids-versus-careers. And it’s not just about raising kids — it could be looking after your elderly parents or doing some kind of community service.
How do you define success for yourself — what are your rules?
Katty: That’s a great question. For me, success is when I feel my work life is interesting enough, pays me enough and allows me enough time with my children. It’s about having everything in enough balance that I’m happy and satisfied. A priority for me is having enough time with my children. I have passed up career opportunities in the United States that would have raised my profile, but would have meant I lost control of time with my kids. I knew that wouldn’t make me happy and I was just very clear about it.
What do you feel women need most to manage their own balancing acts?
Katty: Really, work-life balance is about having control. I don’t think it’s about part-time or half-time jobs, or full-time jobs. If you can control your schedule to meet your needs, your productivity is enhanced.
The biggest reason most women don’t have flexible work arrangements is that they don’t ask for it because they feel they can’t. If employers want women to stay in the workforce and ascend to the executive committee levels, then they’re going to have to be flexible about keeping them. Most companies need to do a much better job of helping women with that.
Do you see big differences for women across different industries? What’s your perception of challenges for women in technology?
Katty: There are certain industries where we clearly have challenges. Oddly, one of the areas we identified in “Womenomics” was surgery — it tends to be male dominated and it’s generally more difficult for women to get ahead. Other industries, like financial services, are getting better, but it’s still not great.
We need to encourage girls in middle and high school to get more involved in technology. If we focus on STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and math], not STEM, and showcase the creative side of coding and programming, maybe that’s a way we can get girls excited. It starts in schools. We’re going to have to go into middle schools with female engineers and coders so girls can look up and say, “Oh, there is somebody who does that who looks like me.” I think it’s really critical to start addressing this at a young age.
The topic of your second book is confidence. What would you want every woman to know about having confidence?
Katty: It’s an ongoing process and I’m still working on it! There are still things that challenge my confidence every day and there are still times when I find myself saying, “Oh, I couldn’t do that.” Or “I haven’t asked for what I’m worth; I haven’t asked for a pay raise in years.” That’s crazy. I should be doing that, right? I’m not there because someone’s doing me a favor. I’m there because I’m valuable.
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