Technology vs. Privilege
Recently I was interviewed for an article on the subject of work/life balance. We’ll put aside for the moment the argument over whether or not such a thing could/should/does exist (spoiler alert: I say No.). During our conversation, the interviewer told me a story about a woman being featured in the article who had risen to a fairly senior level at a large organization. After the birth of her first child, her priorities and time constraints shifted, understandably. So the woman looked at what she was doing at work, and what other duties her organization needed, and then she crafted a new job description—for herself. She then gave the description to her bosses and said, “This is the job I want, if you want to keep me here.” And they did, and everyone lived happily ever after.
It’s an inspiring story, of course, and taking control of your career is always a great idea. The interviewer was also taken with the fact that the story was about a woman taking a tough negotiating tack. Yet my immediate gut reaction was: privilege. And as we talked further, it was noted that our heroine had a backup job of equivalent pay ready and waiting—should the reaction of her superiors been less than supportive—as well as a decent financial cushion.
Although I’d never disparage the brains and guts this executive had to create her own conditions for success, it’s clear she came from a position of both power and privilege. I admit I have both, and so do many of you. A happy ending like this highlights the importance of managing our careers. But it’s a story that reads like an unattainable fairy tale to many workers.
I began thinking about workers like a single mom working in retail. Creating a new job description, or even approaching her boss to talk about her schedule, might never cross her mind, and there are many possible reasons for her reluctance. Or if it did cross her mind, the potential downside consequences might seem too daunting, like being labeled as “difficult,” and then being punished with even less flexibility or a worse shift than she had before.
But what if technology could democratize at least a small part of privilege?
What if this worker and millions like her had tools that let them easily make last-minute changes to swap out or pick up hours, or sign up for training or education, or explore future opportunities? And what if their managers trusted those tools, and used data and automation to ensure a full crew was available to work every shift, without requiring 14 conversations with 14 workers beforehand? Or labeling staff “unreliable” when they merely want a little flexibility and a voice in the process?
The good news is that this technology already exists. Just ask Ceridian, Infor, Kronos, Ultimate, Workforce Software, among many others. But what is lacking in many cases is the organizational will to use it strategically. We need to train our managers on the strategy behind this technology. Heck, we need an articulated workforce strategy as well! Buying tools or software doesn’t change your organization—it takes people to do that. Certainly technology and humans shape each other, but never forget that technology works for us, not vice versa. If we have a plan on how we want to treat people, and let that guide our uses of technology, we’ll create a more accessible world, where privilege isn’t what it used to be, and skills are matched to jobs quickly and easily. And then what a privilege it would be to work for an organization like that.