• October 2012

Re-Thinking Work, the Workplace—and Juggling Acts of All Sorts

By Beverly Schwartz
Author Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World

Being divorced with no children, I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, with much compassion.

However, I come from a totally different life perspective.

Many things in her article rang true for me. It made me review my own journey down a similar, but equally frustrating path—as a single professional who often had to accommodate my schedules, workload, and a host of other things for my colleagues with children.

Earlier in my career, as a non-parent, no-spouse professional, I sometimes felt oppositely harassed when I was expected to sub-in for colleagues who had to attend to their children.

I rarely felt that they were taking advantage of me, though, to be honest, I occasionally resented it. But then I realized how much I value my colleagues, and it seemed like much less of a sacrifice.

I knew they were doing the best they could, and I respected the way they juggled their personal and professional lives. I wasn’t too sure I would have been able to do as well as they seemed to do.

But my frame of mind changed when I started to work at Ashoka.

This organization valued entrepreneurship, and leaders here, inspired by founder and CEO Bill Bill Drayton (pictured above), gave people the support and encouragement to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing business. This is the very definition of an entrepreneur.

So for the last eight years, I have worked at Ashoka, and in that space of time, I’ve seen an amazing amount of progress toward realizing the true meaning of work/life balance for both men and women.

Indeed, technology has empowered many of those changes. But change starts with a corporate mindset, which is at the very core of this organization. The leaders here are determined to create a supportive environment for system-changing ideas to emerge. At Ashoka, women might just be able to have more, if not all, of the professional and personal pie—simultaneously.

I don’t think we should be alone in this quest.

In a globally connected world, where so much business and relationship-building is done online and on Skype, surely we are smart enough to figure out how to accommodate the ever-changing demands of a wired and untethered workforce.

But the issue might not be “the how,” but more so “the will” to make the mental, physical, and structural leaps necessary on the part of managers, employees, and co-workers.

I find it interesting (if not a bit ironic) that as the worlds of government and business tout innovation as the way to stay competitive, the words “re-invent,” “re-design,” and “re-learn” appear in almost every other business article or book.

But the essence of innovation seems to be directed externally toward what is being done for customers, taxpayers, members, or clients rather than internally at the employees or concerning company infrastructure.

Everyone a Changemaker

For that reason, I’ve been working with the leaders at Ashoka to create a new type of organization. We call it the “Everyone a Changemaker” company, where employees are empowered to suggest and make changes to not only their individual environment and work patterns—but to the core business model itself.

It’s no secret that companies that are going to thrive over the next decade need not only to be innovative, but flexible and adaptable.

But are our organizations and our industries really structured to foster those traits?

How do we go about changing intra-company behavior by creating an environment that enables change on a meaningful scale?

In order for a company to stay on the cutting edge, we now have to challenge embedded and ingrained notions of how our organizations operate. And now more than ever, what drives it to success and sustainability.

To paraphrase Gary Hamel, author of “What Matters Now:” If you want to see the qualities of the future, use the Web as one model. The Web embraces openness, meritocracy, flexibility, collaboration, open-sourcing, and a tolerance for adaptability. It is the global operating system for innovation, and those are just the sorts of attributes that we have to replicate in our organizations. Click here to see his YouTube video, Reinventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment.

  • So while we are changing our management philosophy, our company, and ourselves to be ready for a swiftly evolving future, maybe, just maybe we can weave some human infrastructure development into the fabric of our organizational culture.
  • Maybe we can re-invent how we actualize the changes that need to be made around work/life balance for all.
  • Maybe what we really need is more empathy in the world for others and their daily balancing acts.

Footnote, Gary Hamel; “Re-inventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment”, a YouTube excerpt from the University of Phoenix Distinguished Guest Video Lecture Series, 2009.

Portions of this post were reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World by Beverly Schwartz. Copyright © 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marketing vp and “Rippling” author Beverly Schwartz joined Ashoka after spending years as senior marketing counsel from Fleishman-Hillard, an international communications agency.

At Fleishman, she built and helped manage its social issues portfolio. She also developed and directed Fleishman’s domestic and international social-impact portfolio and was project director of the non-advertising portion of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s “Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.”

Schwartz’ interest in social issues spans most of her career. In the mid-70s she was executive director of the Minnesota Association for Nonsmokers and was instrumental in passing the nation’s first state law banning smoking in public places.

Subsequently, at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she helped design and manage the first U.S. education/prevention campaign for HIV/AIDS, and simultaneously directed the Office on Smoking and Health’s public information function. At the Academy for Educational Development, she worked globally on the problem of education reform.

Schwartz is dedicated to promoting the field of social marketing. An associate editor of the Social Marketing Quarterly, she is also a Steering Committee member of the annual “Innovations in Social Marketing Conference.” Learn more here: www.ashoka.org.

Follow Schwartz on twitter@beverlyschwartz and Tweet about the article and become a Rippler! You can also fan her at Facebook.com/RipplingTheBook.