By Melissa J. Anderson

Last week, PwC hosted its Diversity Leadership Forum, entitled “Business works when life works: Flexibility in a hyper-connected world,” in Washington DC. The Forum was a day-long conference intended to amount to a graduate course in diversity leadership, remarked Reggie Butler, Managing Director, PwC’s US Office of National HR Operations – Transformation.

Jennifer Allyn, Managing Director, Office of Diversity, PwC, asked, “How can we as leaders support the needs of our people and really get that competitive edge?”

One of the biggest ways workplaces are changing is to better support the needs of today’s families. Not only is the definition of family evolving, but as more women enter the workforce and achieve top roles, so are the responsibilities of family members. PwC’s panel on “Meeting the Needs of Modern Families” set out to determine how today’s employees’ needs are changing as more voices come to the work/life conversation.

Evolving Responsibilities

One phenomenon impacting the structure of work is the slow redefinition of gender roles. Over the past three generations, as more women have entered the workforce and more men have desired greater interaction within their family, the traditional caregiver / breadwinner dichotomy has diminished. Jeremy Adam Smith, author of The Daddy Shift, explained, “The daddy shift is the expansion of the notion of fatherhood to include caregiving.” He quipped, “It means fathers change diapers too.”

And this shift is good for women – while work/life conflict has been traditionally relegated to the “women’s issue” box where it received nominal attention, the fact that work/life is gradually becoming a struggle for men is elevating the issue’s importance.

At the same time, men face more persecution for taking advantage of work/life benefits, Smith said. “Men need more explicit permission and encouragement. The mindset is that they are still expected to be the primary breadwinners.”

He added that oftentimes men don’t know what policies are available, and seeing role models taking advantage of policies like flex time. He said, “We fear retaliation – and we get this from looking at mothers. Men subconsciously understand [the motherhood penalty]. When you are in a position to be the primary breadwinner, he continued, you don’t want to risk losing a job or opportunity for promotion.

Ellen Galinsky, President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute said, “Men use daily flex time more than women do. They are more likely to use compressed work weeks.”

LGBT Families

Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of the Family Equality Council explained, “[Corporations] are still coming to grips with what different families look like. There is a deep longing for a nostalgic, easy time, and change is a difficult process.”

She continued, “There are one million LGBT families raising two million children within the US.” And that estimation is probably low, she continued. One third of lesbian couples and one fifth of gay male couples are raising kids. Additionally, she said, “They’re more likely to be in the south and midwest.”

“There is a radical shift in the LGBT community. Becoming a parent, is much more the norm.” She added, for example, “87% of LGBT youth expect to marry and raise kids.” Compared with the 80s, when only 40% of lesbians planned on having kids, this means quite a change for corporations – same sex protections and family health care benefits must be addressed clearly and communicated effectively.

Finally, she said, companies need to recognize that policies toward LGBT individuals vary and impact parenting relationships and benefits. That being said, she added, “The corporate sector has done such a better job than the government.”

New Generations

As Gen Y enters the workforce and attains leadership positions, companies can expect to see more challenges to assumptions on the nature of work.

Galinsky said, “[Gen Y employees] actually work longer and harder than people their age worked thirty years ago.” They just want to do it on their own terms – with the ability to “focus on life outside their job.”

Millennial expert, consultant, and author Jullien Gordon, explained that the “Y” in Gen Y is significant. He said, “Gen Y will not settle for the answer, ‘that’s just the way it is.’”

He explained that Gen Y workers have three motivators – and these will change the way the workplace is structured to allow more flexibility and fluidity. First of all he said, they want to be able to create value. Secondly, they want to be valued – with professional growth opportunities and higher responsibilities. And third, he said, “they want work that aligns with their responsibilities.”

Because both genders of Gen Y expect to be able to spend time with family and enjoy a full life, workplaces will have to respond to those demands by implementing new schedules and new technologies that appeal to workers in dual-career families.