What Women Want – At Work

Insights into what women are truly looking for in a job and workplace.

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Robin Madell
Robin Madell
The world is rapidly changing, and work along with it. When it comes to assessing what women still want and need to change in the working world, who better to ask than Marilyn Nagel, CEO of Watermark (http://www.wearewatermark.org/), a community of executive women who have risen to the top of their fields.

Nagel notes that while women have made progress in proving the business case for gender diversity at the executive level and on boards across many industries, there's still plenty of work to do. "We have not gained the level of traction that we need in terms of representation as CEOs or even in the C-suite," Nagel says. To help increase this traction, Nagel shares some insights about what women want in the workplace:

Visible role models. With the emergence of executive feminism in the media, a number of top-tier spokespeople are bringing women's career issues front and center. Nagel believes that having spokeswomen like Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO and author of the book "Lean In"), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo CEO), and Pamela Ryckman (author of the book "Stiletto Network") inspires younger women to understand that they have more options for advancement.

"These are more visible role models than we had in the past," Nagel says. "When Sheryl's book came out, and she was endorsed and had conversations with the media providing press support, that positioned her in a different way to get her message out." Nagel adds that no role model should expect to represent an entire gender. "They are individuals, and they represent a perspective," she says. "I may not agree with everything they say or do, but what I admire about them is that they are pioneers."

A new way of thinking. Women will benefit from companies and individuals starting to think differently about gender expectations. Nagel notes that women are often asked about personal commitments in conjunction with top jobs while men usually aren't. "If you had a male 55-year-old who you were putting into a CEO role, would anyone ask him if he has elder care issues?" Nagel asks. "The answer obviously is no. We know that elder care issues are going to take as much time, and be a bigger distraction, than infant care issues – yet we would never ask a man, do you have conflicting priorities because you have an elderly parent with Alzheimer's?"

Supportive colleagues. To move up in an organization, women need advocates just like men do. Nagel suggests that women need to continue to increase their support of one another to make room for other female seats at the table or in the boardroom. "We need to bust the myth of the queen bee, of the person who said there's only one seat at the table and I've got it so no one else is getting it," Nagel says.

Nagel uses the analogy that women know how to set extra places at the table. "We know that if we're planning a big dinner party for the holiday and someone says, 'I've got two guests from out of town, can I bring them?' then we find a way to squeeze them in, and include them, and make sure they're as welcome as everyone else. We need to do the same thing in the boardrooms and in the executive suites."

Face time and screen time. While women generally have plenty of opportunities to participate in networking through social media, it can be more difficult to make time for in-person business networking. Nagel believes that the virtual can't replace the real, and it's important to have both. "A lot of the 24-7 'on' dynamic has depersonalized relationships, and there is a bit of a craving for a return to wanting a little bit more," Nagel says. "Especially for someone with a certain level of maturity – maybe from 30s on up – you're not going to replace a friendship with an online relationship. You don't get the same level of support as you do face-to-face with people."

Work-life integration. Women have other things to do besides work. From Nagel's perspective at Watermark, she has been able to observe women's desire for work-life integration firsthand, and has made changes at the organization to support these needs. While Watermark's networking events used to start after business hours at 6 p.m., most now begin around 4 p.m. and end before 6:30. "If we are really committed to supporting women integrating their lives and getting ahead in their careers, and we say we want to help women make their mark in their company, career and community, then we have to include that they have a need to get home," Nagel says. "Whether it's to exercise, be with a partner, give their children a bath or do homework, it's still a need. And we want to support that."

Robin Madell has spent two decades as a writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, and diversity issues. She has interviewed over 200 thought leaders around the globe, and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. Robin serves as a speechwriter and ghostwriter for CEOs and top executives, with a specialized focus on women in business. She is author of Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30, which is scheduled for publication in September 2013.