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Flexibility at Work: Coaching Women to Aim Their Strengths

Flexibility at Work: Coaching Women to Aim Their Strengths

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 7, Episode 15
  • Learn from Heather Wright how women can aim their CliftonStrengths toward the goals of flexibility and success at work.

On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with Heather Wright, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup, about women in the workplace. Heather talked about the importance of work-life balance, personal wellbeing and flexibility at work for women, and how coaches can leverage women's strengths to help them find a job role that is perfect for them or be successful in their current role. She also discussed how organizations can help the women in their workforces by expanding their definition of flexibility.

Our guest host was Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup.

Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.

[5:47] Mike McDonald: So, Heather, let's take ourselves into this notion of workplace flexibility. There's a backdrop here: women demand -- and think about that verb, demand -- flexibility, so if we want to win in the workplace, we'll do it through women, but flexibility is going to be a key ingredient. And if you think about the first number we referenced, 60% of female job-seekers say that a job that allows them greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing is very important to them.

So right away, 60% should get our attention in terms of what it represents to the current workforce and our ability to attract futuristically. Heather, tell us, how does our coaching, how does strengths, how does engagement roll itself into a way that we can win in the delivery of what that 60% demand represents.

Heather Wright: It is so interesting because I think about that flexibility piece, while it came out in our Women in the Workplace research, we find it's pretty important to all employees, especially as we move forward. Women declared it as one of the most important pieces for them, even higher than pay. They will settle for maybe a little less pay, or different pay, if that flexibility is an option.

So it's powerful. And I think about coaching, and tying people's strengths. One of the things that when you think about helping a person find that perfect role, or be successful in their role, sometimes I think it's about aiming their strengths at how they can be great stewards of the gift of flexibility.

A lot of times, I think, organizations' hesitation around flexibility is, "People take advantage of us if we offer flexibility. How do we know we can trust people if they're not here, where I can keep my eye on them?" So I think what you can do if you have clients that you're coaching -- and they are pursuing a role or pursuing flexibility in their own role, one of the things to coach around is: How do their strengths help them take ownership for their work, drive results?

Just even them knowing their strengths and being more clear about what they do best can help them deliver the message that, "I'm a great performer. I'm going to deliver outstanding outcomes whether I'm here, working from home, whether I'm working 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. or noon to 10 p.m. -- whatever that might look like.

[8:27] HW: Flexibility takes on a lot of different -- it's about where, it's about how, it's about who we work with -- that flexibility. So for some people, the ideal is, I'm in the office a couple of days a week, I work on site with clients a couple of days a week, I work from home one day a week. That might be flexibility. For some, it's about flexibility of time. But I think our coaching opportunity is to help people see themselves through the lens of what they do best, so they can aim that at the conversation to help others know.

I led a workshop around women in the workplace, and had one organization say that they really had to convince the leadership of their organization to offer this as an option for employees as a retention tool, and the way they convinced leadership was they did it as a pilot activity. They said, "We told the company, 'We're going to try this for three months to see how it goes.'" So it wasn't, "We're going to be flexible and then we're going to take it away." It's "We're going to try this for three months and see what happens."

And it went so well, and what they actually found was productivity in the organization increased a little bit because people were able to work at the time and location that allowed them to be their most productive.

So I think sometimes when you're helping people look at their strengths, I think about using those Insight Cards and there's that "What I Need" layer. Oftentimes, it's helping people think about, "What do I need because of my strengths?"

I coached someone earlier in the week, and we talked about their Analytical, their Intellection, and they said, "I've come to realize -- I need quiet time. I work in a department with two other people and their job is to be immediately responsible to the needs of employees, because we're in a benefits department, but I'm the person doing the analysis and calculating things." And she said, "I sometimes need to shut my email down or turn the phone off and really dig deep into things with my Analytical and my Intellection."

For her, the flexibility is to say, "Can I shut those things down? Is it OK with the rest of the team or the internal clients that I don't respond to emails immediately? And do I have the flexibility to go to a conference room, instead of being at my desk where other people's phones are ringing and their conversations are distracting me."

So it was a great, robust conversation about, "What do you need because of your strengths to give you the flexibility to do your very best work?"

[11:50] HW: One of the things we see in a lot of our data is the work has to be meaningful to the person. So part of the attraction is that you've got work that means something to me, that if I show up here each day, it's worth my time. And we'll talk about that in a minute.

But it is also that, when you come to work for us, and that was a conversation I was having with someone earlier. She was pondering taking a new role with a different company, and one of the things we were talking about was, she's saying, "I've got a 6-year-old son at home. I'm not sure I want to take on a big job that's constant travel, but I really like the work these people are doing." And we were talking about, could she just even ask in her conversations with the hiring manager, could she talk about, "Maybe I work for you on a contract basis or a project basis. Maybe I don't take a full-time job with you, but I get to work in a way that allows me to build my world the way I need it to be right now."

One of the things organizations need to think about is, "Can we get beyond the standard 8 to 5 box?" One client of Gallup's, as we talked about women in the workplace and this flexibility component, said, "Well, we offer great flexibility. We tell people they can come in at 7, 7:30, 8, 8:30 -- and adjust their leaving hours as such."

For some people, I need to be able to drop my kids off at school and pick them up. That means I need to work a couple of hours from home in the evening. And this company couldn't allow that.

Sometimes flexibility is about how do we help you know that as you long as you accomplish the outcomes, we're pretty open about where you work, how you work, what time you work -- as long as you're delivering outcomes.

Now there are some roles -- the teachers at my kids' elementary school couldn't pick and choose when they wanted to come and go, because the students were going to show up at a certain time. So the teachers have to be there. But you know that going into a job like that.

I was talking to a colleague the other day that -- there are some things changing in her world, and she's saying, "I don't want to work for a place that wouldn't give me the flexibility to manage my life the way I've been able to with Gallup." And so it's hard to think about taking on a job in a traditional organization that is 8 to 5. If they aren't really open about -- "Hey, we need you to be there for our clients, but we can be flexible about how that looks."

MM: I think that's terrific. If we're listening in well, and Heather, you're giving me some great notes. You used some language, "Build my world," and I think your story was appropriate because I don't know that giving me options of 15-minute increments ranging from 7:30 to 8:30, allowing me to come in, would qualify as "Building my own world," right?

And we think about -- I reference this a lot -- that span of influence and control that is so consistent with our coaching around strengths and/or engagement -- very appealing attribute or aspect of our workplace. And so we can offer that and help the individual realize that -- what can you control? Give me the influence to build my own world -- I love the power position of that autonomy and that span of influence and control.

And when we win there, the stats continue to reinforce that message. I can't help but think about this translation of flexibility to engagement, that sense of ownership. And you talked about that earlier, about ownership, that stewardship and what that means to a person's success -- to a woman's success -- as she balances and integrates all of these different features of her own life.

Some of the stats that give some edges to that -- 49% of women -- I want us to think about the contrast here -- who believe their companies are doing very well at letting them shift hours and schedules as needed are categorically engaged. Just on that one metric. The flip of that is, though, that number drops to 20% categorically engaged for women who would disagree with that statement. So we see more than double the effect just in the capacity we have to that answer that question well or deliver on that well.

HW: That's really right.

Heather Wright's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Communication, Individualization, Maximizer, Harmony and Focus.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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