Stereotypes debunked: Working mums = high performance
January 9, 2020
Audrey and her team of working mothers have convincingly smashed the stereotype that flex workers and part-timers can’t do high-pressure jobs. Using an adaptive, future-of-work model, the team has set a new standard for best practice, supporting a massive portfolio of global divestment projects.
For three and half years, a high-performing Accenture team has been managing a challenging portfolio of divestment projects for a global client. Its job was to disentangle ERP systems and get the entities ready for sale. With stakeholders in Canada, Scotland, Iceland, India and France, the team had to work across time zone extremes. Everything was highly confidential, highly complex, high pressure and absolutely time critical.
In all that time, the crack team managing the divest projects never dropped the ball, delivering above and beyond the delighted client’s expectations. A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable to resource this type of project with anything other than full-time employees willing to put their lives on hold for the duration.
The team Audrey Ferguson pulled together broke the mould in so many different ways.
“We were seven working mothers, all working flexibly, often from home – only three of us worked full time hours. We had three pregnancies and two returns from maternity leave – one of whom got pregnant again! One team member worked a different two days each week. Another only worked 10am-2.30pm.”
“Everyone thought the client would be resistant, but we already had a good relationship and they trusted us to do what we said we would do. We were completely upfront about our resourcing strategy and they were very comfortable. The client just wanted to be sure the work got done with their quality levels. They just wanted us to deliver. Once they saw the quality of our work, it was never an issue.”
Some people think the team delivered in spite of its weird working patterns, but Audrey is convinced that’s exactly why it worked so well.
“With our mix of full-time, part-time and flex work, everyone was doing an element of job sharing, which made the team incredibly resilient. If someone went on holiday – or were sick – everyone knew what was going on and could step in at a moment’s notice.”
“Also, with a part-time team, you’ve got a wider variety of skills and experience. One of our part-time members, working only from home, had deep experience with the client, having worked with them before. She understood all their quality assurance processes and was able to train the team. Her knowledge was a huge advantage.”
Critically, the flexibility worked both ways. “At the pointy end, during go live times, we ramped up by sharing the workload,” explains Audrey. “Instead of one project manager getting stressed out of their mind working 24/7, we used a team response, with people working different hours to carry the load.”
“Over the years, our team of seven covered between three and five FTEs, scaling up and down in response to the client’s different demands, without ever having to take on the costs associated with adding a full-time person.”
Flexibility was a core function of the team. “We had really open conversations about how we were going to meet the client’s needs while also honouring home commitments. Everyone had an incredible work ethic.”
Audrey thinks working mothers are a hidden resource that many companies just don’t see as the asset they are. “Working mums are determined, focused – and they really, really want to be at work and to add value. As long as they are supported to do their ‘other job’ you’re going to get very high levels of engagement.”
“I’ve been working a long time, and this was the most supportive, close knit and productive team I’ve ever worked with. I think we were modelling the workforce of the future. It’s definitely the way to ensure sustained, high performance, and team resilience.”
Why are we talking about stereotypes?
We’re making good progress in promoting inclusion and diversity, but our ingrained beliefs can still heavily influence our actions. Are you subconsciously acting in a certain way because of your preconceived notions? Find out by reading and talking about our ‘stereotypes debunked’ stories.