New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer engaged executives from both HR and investment/asset management in a robust conversation about the importance of flexibility, diversity and work life issues at a roundtable on August 11th co-hosted by Families and Work Institute (FWI) and Cornerstone Capital Group, a sustainable finance advisory platform. Several of FWI’s Corporate Leadership Circle members participated, sharing their expertise in what was a candid and inspiring conversation about flexibility.

“It is wonderful to see the investment and HR communities aligned around these issues of sustainable performance,” noted Anne Weisberg, senior vice president of Families and Work Institute. “We believe in the power of ‘and.’ As our research has borne out time and time again, workplace flexibility can be a win-win strategy that benefits people and business.”

The discussion followed last year’s release of Families and Flexibility: Reshaping the Workplace for the 21st Century, the Comptroller’s report on the important role flexibility can have in helping employees improve their work-life fit, while also creating a more productive, stable, and profitable workforce for employers of all sizes. The Comptroller’s Office also hosted a follow-up conference on Families and Flexibility in September 2014, featuring President and CEO of New America Foundation, Anne Marie Slaughter.

“I applaud Cornerstone Capital Group and the Families and Work Institute for hosting this critical discussion, and for underscoring that family and work are complimentary–not competing–interests,” said Comptroller Stringer. “By working together to promote flexibility in the workplace we can ensure that New York City remains a global economic powerhouse, while at the same time respecting the needs of workers and their families.”

For example, allowing employees to have incremental control over their schedules, known as day-to-day flexibility, can have an enormous impact. The ability to come in 30-minutes later can mean an employee can take a parent to a doctor’s appointment or make a teacher conference.

“Employers will find that when you give a little, what you get in return are the full hearts and minds of your employees,” said Erika Karp, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cornerstone Capital Group, noting the firm’s recently published Journal of Sustainable Finance and Banking issue on “Work/Life Skills.”

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[Anne Weisberg, Families and Work Institute, with Cornerstone’s Erika Karp and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer]

Attendees at Work Life Gathering at CCG

 

One of the challenges to workplace flexibility is stigma. Even among companies with formal policies, employees may fear that they’ll be penalized or seen as less committed if they use them. To address this, participants discussed the following strategies:

  • Involve men. Finding the right work life fit is important to all employees. For example, 45 percent of Citi employees who are on formal flexible arrangements are men.
  • Nurture a culture of transparency. Assure employees that they can raise questions and discuss work life issues with their supervisors without fear of retribution. Comptroller Stringer has endorsed “Right to Request” legislation introduced at both the City and State levels that creates a formal mechanism for workers and employers to discuss workplace flexibility options. Such laws do not mandate that employers provide flexible arrangements. However, by providing employees with opportunities to request flexibility without fear of reprisal, they help to break down the stigma associated with non-traditional workplace arrangements. FWI has more information on how these laws have worked in other jurisdictions.
  • Close the leadership gap. At the most senior levels in corporate America, women and minorities are still underrepresented. The Comptroller’s Chief Diversity Officer, Carra Wallace, shared innovative ways their office is working to increase contract opportunities for minorities and women across New York City’s agencies and the private sector.

“Diversity isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a foundational pillar of economic development and social justice,” said Wallace. “We will continue to hold city agencies accountable for spending with minority and women-owned businesses, while pressing Corporate America to diversify its supply chain and its workforce, from the boardroom to the factory floor.”

“One question about diversity is ‘how do you define it?’” added John Wilson, Cornerstone’s Head of Corporate Governance, Engagement and Research. He noted that the best firms seeking cultural change look to a range of characteristics that include industry experience, education and tenure, in addition to gender and ethnicity.

The meeting concluded with a discussion of how business and New York City government can partner in order to reframe flexibility as a critical business issue. Doing so can only help New York City compete with other global cities for top talent and business investment.