I recently spent time with one of my “she-roes” in the movement, Ana Maria Archila. On the morning she and I met, she had already driven through midtown New York City traffic to do school drop-offs and fixed a flat tire. The week after our meeting, I saw her on national news facing down a US Senator in a Capitol Hill elevator. Ana Maria, like many of us women in the movement, juggles so much before she even gets to work.
At times, I have sacrificed so much of myself for my work that I have had little energy left to pour into the rest of my life. Because many of us in the social change movement do work that is so central to our personal missions, it can be hard to negotiate the boundaries. That’s why I am so committed to Family-Work Integration as a tool for helping women succeed at work.
Our organization’s “family-work integration” program builds on the research findings of Dr. Stacy Blake-Beard of Simmons College. A year ago, we adopted this approach at Faith in Action (formerly PICO). We asked everyone on our national staff team to commit to no meetings and no emails on Fridays. We close our offices and create space for our staff to re-energize, plan, read, write, and think. The Family-Work Integration Plan has been a pilot investment in the creativity and development of our staff.
The Family-Work Integration Plan is grounded in my belief that in order to be successful at work, women of color need four things:
- Room for Reflection,
- Resources, and
So often, outside the workplace, women carry outsized caregiving responsibilities. We tend to shortchange our own time for reflection and receiving recognition. Who has energy to read before going to bed when you’ve never stopped during the day? Who can take another trip to accept the speaking engagement when your aging parent needs help? Many of us have been role-trained by family and cultural dynamics to be “responsible and responsive.” So, when there’s work to be done, we often make the leadership mistake of being the first person to grab a mop. People around us (both at work and at home) catch on quickly and then we find ourselves weighted down in situations that limit our creativity and imagination. We carry too much responsibility, without the commensurate resources, recognition, and space for reflection. We get the job done, but at tremendous cost to our psyches and our families.
Over time, I have come to learn that Family-Work Integration is not only possible, it is essential to our success as women of color in leadership. In order to have greater impact, we need more room to reflect.
The Family-Work Integration Plan is a targeted universalist approach to retaining and growing talented staff, a structural change that encourages staff to get better by dedicating 20 percent of their time to growing their creativity and learning. It is designed to include, improve, and ignite the leadership of women of color in our workplace.
We started by including women of color. We chose a targeted universalist approach to achieving equity, based on the research of Dr. john powell. The easiest way to think about it is to think about curb-cuts in the sidewalks. For whom are curb-cuts designed? They’re designed for people who use wheelchairs, right? But who uses them? Everyone benefits from them, but they’re designed for a specific group of people. That’s targeted universalism. The Family-Work Integration Plan is focused on retaining and growing women of color with the understanding that in a workplace where women of color thrive, everyone thrives.
Our organization had been having trouble retaining extremely talented Black and Latina women. As I watched so many phenomenal women come and go, I decided to use my experience being the first Latina—first woman period—to have a family and pursue a long-term career in our network. I used my position as Chief of Staff to initiate a structural approach to growing the skill and creativity of all our staff by focusing on what women of color need.
The second element of the Family-Work Integration Plan is focused on improving. It provides space for staff to get better at their work. In a TED talk by Eduardo Briceño entitled “How to get better at the things you care about,” he describes how Beyoncé is arguably one of the most successful entertainers of our time, yet she is always seeking to improve. Every night after her show, before going home, she watches a video of her performance and send notes to her dancers, team members, and others with suggested changes.
The third part of our focus is on igniting the creativity of our people. Most people at work spend 100 percent of their time executing their job. Our staff now have 20 percent of their time to be more creative. Imagine being a concert pianist, never practicing, only performing. Yet, that’s what we do in business. Our staff, probably like your staff, are often so busy attending meetings and conference calls, answering phone calls, and responding to emails that they are not unleashing their full creativity on the important challenges we face.
The Family-Work Integration Plan is structured as follows. Monday through Thursday are about execution of your job. Friday is a paid workday set aside for growing your creativity and improving your skills. Our offices are all closed on Fridays—people mostly work from home or another convenient location. Organization-wide, we have committed to no meetings and no emails on Fridays. Each per