How to overcome the surprising things holding you back

Spoiler alert: It's not your gender or even biases - it is about overcoming the long hours that hold all of us back.

On Sunday, March the 8th, we celebrate International Women's Day, and this year's theme, #EachforEqual. Celebrating the contributions of women while reminding us all that equality is for all by all. Why is it that while women made remarkable progress in accessing power and authority in the 1970s and 1980s, the momentum has stalled entirely in this century?

Ask people why, and you will hear a familiar story about the long hours of high-level jobs, women's devotion to their family, and careers suffering as a result. It turns out this is the story we tell ourselves, but not the truth according to research. We think it is primarily (and only) women who suffer from the work/family conflict. Yet the findings suggest men feel it too, but it is mostly only women who tackle this conflict by making changes to their work patters, i.e. going part-time or on reduced hours. The stigma attached to these choices is what prevents more men from doing the same and perpetuates a belief that it is women's personal choices that stand in the way of their success.

It keeps men's identities locked on the idea of the ideal employee: fully committed and fully available. To fit this image, they must adopt the psychological stance that my job is all-important. Nonwork identities, no matter how personally meaningful, become secondary. It creates internal conflict, especially for parents. Men feel guilty about how little time they spend with their families and the regret and sadness of dealing with disappointed children. And project that guilt and sadness onto women, that it is only natural that women prioritise family ('someone has to do it!) thereby supporting the family-first narrative that holds women captive.

This narrative, of course, makes no sense for women who have decided not to have children, yet, their professional progress is equally slow. And it also strikes women who have held onto their professional identities and achieved much recognition and success - contradicting the idea that it is impossible to meet the demands of both family and work. Rather than being held up as exemplars, the implication is that these women must be bad mothers - not positive role models for working moms. These narratives make it a decision between being a good mom or a good employee, with society condemning the latter.

The real culprit is a general culture of overwork that hurt both men and women and lock gender inequality in place. Overwork can come in all different guises. It could be practices that were costly and unnecessary, chief among them overselling and overdelivering. Or we go along with complicated ways of working rather than taking the time upfront to come up with a better approach. All of us can come up with examples where we know we could have done something in a more focused way. Yet the irony is that long hours don't raise productivity but lead to decreases in performance and increases in sick-leave costs.

At The LEGO Group, this has been on our radar for a long time. Our mission and People Promise make it only natural to support families and to value family time. Perhaps most visible in Denmark, this commitment is something important to us no matter where you are based. And what stands in the way of this is an organisational or even societal culture of overwork. To experience a real shift requires changing our habits and how we work. That's where our definition of Leadership comes in. It is not a role or a title, but just like inclusion, it is a behaviour. We define it as 'create the space to energise everybody every day'. We want everyone to take a proactive role in how we achieve things together. The Playground encourages us to focus on what matters, be curious about root causes and brave to propose a different way to do something. Where we together build a more open, inclusive, and transparent culture. Working smarter, not harder to be there for our loved ones, without sacrificing our careers in doing so.

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