Today’s book review is Not Guilty, by Nicolette Rubinsztein. This book, by an actuary, is about managing a career while being a working mother. So it was pretty much essential that I review it here, where I often write about work, family and even actuarial issues. Nicolette and I have also been colleagues for much of the last ten years, so I’m not completely unbiased as a reviewer.
Rubinzstein structures her book around the McKinsey 7 S Strategic Framework for managing the strategy of a company – looking at managing a career as a working mother as an organisational challenge. McKinsey’s framework is about managing an organisation – it’s a fabulous intuitive leap to use it as a way of managing your work and home life. The framework has seven essential factors, as shown in the diagram below. The core is about shared values. The book mostly contains strategic advice, for the successful career mum, but also along the way, makes some important points about what needs to change from a legislative and corporate framework to improve the lot of working mothers.
- Shared values – As the diagram shows, in any organisation, you need to understand your values. This chapter gives some great suggestions about the key questions you should think about to make sure you are on the same page within your family – you and your partner, and your wider family.
- Structure – What structure should you put around your life? Rubinzstein strongly advocates part-time work. This is the central theme of the book. Rubinzstein was named one of Australia’s most powerful part-time workers in 2014, and she is a passionate advocate for part-time work as a structure for working mothers. She makes a strong case, and it has clearly worked for her, with a high-profile, intense role that she was able to do by working (mostly) the hours from 7 am to 1pm. I’m not sure if I entirely agree, having watched many women having to settle for roles well below their abilities in order to achieve that coveted part-time role (and watched other women work full-time hours for a part-time salary). But if, as Rubinzstein advocates, corporates embrace part-time (and flexible) work more comprehensively, there will be benefits that go well beyond the individual women who manage to work part-time.
…perhaps the main stumbling block is that companies just aren’t that flexible and they don’t like to offer women part-time options….letting market forces and competition work this out is going to take too long. The government needs to look at ways to incentivise companies to offer women part-time work after maternity leave. And women need to be more forceful about pushing through this option and making it work for everyone involved.
- Style – this chapter talks about managing your personal brand at work. There are some really important and useful suggestions here. My only issue with this section is that Rubinzstein is effectively suggesting that you have to be a star worker to be able to score the part-time role she is advocating. I’m sure she is more often right than not, but I would love to think that the ordinary worker can achieve a fulfilling part-time role, not just the star performer.
- Skills – Here Rubinzstein talks about the benefits to companies of diversity of thought and skills. As a worker, it is important to think about how what you bring to a company, and the skills and diversity a company needs to help you think about how to market yourself and also what skills you should be trying to develop. At the same time, in thinking about where to work, understanding the skills of the company in managing a diverse and flexible workforce is important to whether your skills will be utilised to the fullest.
- Strategy – this chapter is largely about managing childcare – what are your options and how should you choose? The key points here are that your choices are limited by three main factors; time, money and values.
- Staff – who does what in the household? It is important to understand all the tasks that need to be done, and agree (as much as possible upfront) who is going to be responsible for them. And if you can, outsource. Time has a value, and it isn’t a renewable resource, and most people underestimate the value of their own time.
- Systems – And finally systems are about understanding the processes you have to make sure everything happens. I’ve often found that reading management books and books about educating children have surprising similarities. Well Rubinzstein makes that point that processes help things happen everywhere – at home, at work, and at school.
In some ways, this book ought to be read at least as much by senior executives as by women trying to strategise their careers as mothers. The insights into what it takes to be successful career mother, whether full-time, part-time, with or without career breaks, leaning in or leaning out are worth taking the time to explore for those managing a workforce which includes mothers, as well as the mothers themselves.
I don’t entirely agree with Rubinzstein that part-time work is the only (or best) solution to managing a career as a mother. While she makes a strong case, which would be stronger if Corporate Australia was making part-time work a viable career option in meaningful roles, I would like to think that these days most senior executives understand the value to their organisation of their people (even those who don’t want to devote every working hour to work), and would therefore understand how to help working mothers at different stages of their lives. In the end, this book serves as a great reminder of just how much loyalty (or disloyalty) can be created by how the organisation responds to the needs of their human workers who have families as well as workplaces. Worth reading for anyone who is a working mother, or managing one.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book, and as I mentioned above, I have known Nicolette Rubinzstein as a colleague, client and fellow actuary for at least 15 years.