Work-life balance is an important topic to me as a person, a partner, a mother and a professional. It’s something I think about, read about and talk about – a lot. So I was excited to participate last week in the Minnesota PRSA panel: “Integrating Work And Life: What’s Working For PR Practitioners.” Here are my key takeaways from the panel and thoughts on the future of work-life balance in the modern workplace.

Work-life balance issues affect women disproportionately

Panelist Amie Hoffner, Vice President and Director, Corporate Communications, TCF Bank shared insights from her master’s degree research that emphasized the importance of work-life balance for women in PR. Finding the flexibility to manage both career and children is a critical issue for working mothers, especially when they first return to the workplace. New mothers are often expected to hurriedly onboard to projects, juggle breast pumping between meetings or while traveling, and overcome overt or subtle resentment for the workload team members assumed during maternity leave. University of Minnesota lecturer and PhD candidate Amelia Reigstad discussed how traditional gender communication styles and roles can heighten these challenges and impede women’s long-term growth potential.

A recent New York Times article “Women Did Everything Right. And Then Work Got Greedy” provides an excellent context for how women and men on parallel career paths diverge after they have children. The article cites research that, “because of the changes in work and family, many educated couples are finding that couple equity is out of reach — and many women are left with unused career potential.” This often means that men who have a spouse with more workplace flexibility can be on-call at work, and ultimately reap the professional rewards. The same is true for primary caregivers in same-sex couples.

So even when women can find more work-life balance and flexibility in their career, it’s often with less responsibility and at the cost of career advancement.

Companies must do better; culture is key

The talent market is tight. Employees increasingly expect better work-life balance, flexibility, development opportunities and a deeper sense of purpose and meaning – and they are ready to leave if they don’t receive it. Gallup’s 2018 State of the American Workplace tells us more than half of employees are searching for new jobs or watching job openings. That’s not good news for organizations that aren’t ready to improve their culture.

Panelist Nancy Manley, Director of Human Resources, Room & Board, shared a refreshing look at what her company is doing to support work-life flexibility for men and women – the ideal solution, Harvard’s Claudia Goldin’s research shows, for helping close the gender gap. By hiring, advancing and supporting employees based on the company’s values and creating a culture of well-being and flexibility, Room & Board has seen high engagement, low turnover and financial success, even during the recession.

Beehive, as an advocate for advancing women in business and a champion for positive work environments, also takes a people-centered business approach. We respect our employees and empower them to be their best selves at work and in life, recognizing that managing both requires flexibility and flow. We have created operational systems that support people working reasonable hours, taking all of their PTO, unplugging when they are out, investing in their well-being. How else can our team have the energy, creativity, collaboration, inspiration, loyalty and trust to deliver excellent work for our clients?

Is there hope for women and work-life balance in PR?

Several panelists shared their concern for young women entering the public relations industry and posed the troubling questions, “Are we going to lose them? Will a smaller workforce contribute to PR and strategic communication losing strategic standing in companies?”

I see things a little differently. I believe there is nothing but hope for young women in PR. And that hope is coming directly from them—the oft-misrepresented Millennials and Gen Z. They are the ones sparking change, using their voices, and raising the bar for their own careers, partnerships and employers. Companies just need to listen and start taking action to create positive change for women and all employees.

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