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On temporary leave? Here's what you need to consider

We sat down with Maria Østerhus Lobo, Head of Communication and Government relations in Econa. Here's her advice for those on leave from work.


Equality Check recently sat down with Maria Østerhus Lobo, Head of Communication and Government relations in Econa, an interest-based organization, and trade union for economists.

Maria has extensive experience working in volunteer-based organizations, public companies, and is responsible for Econa's strong commitment to women in leadership, developing specific measures to increase the number of female leaders in the private sector.

Here she gives her advice to managers on how to best facilitate during home office and digital times, how employees can become change-makers in their roles, and why job seekers should prioritize finding workplaces that pay full wages while on leave.

Equality Check (EC): Why is transparency in the workplace important?

Maria: We know that openness about pay and career development promotes a more equal work-life, and makes it easier for women to know what criteria are being considered when asking for more pay or for a promotion. Workplaces that practice transparency often makes better decisions and risk assessments. I've seen that in the long run, companies are often more innovative, profitable, and generate greater value creation. This is positive for the customers, employees, management, board, and owners.

EC: How do you think Equality Check is helping improve the workplace?

Maria: Equality Check contributes in a very positive way of addressing issues that have previously been demanding and difficult to address in the workplace. Issues related to unconscious discrimination, inclusion, and gender equality can sometimes be tough conversations to have. These are areas that can be difficult to refer to as something tangible, and you often end up appearing unwilling to contribute to the business and to value creation.

This tool helps companies see first-hand how employees rate their efforts and provide a good indication of where they can improve. The more people who review their company, the more important it becomes for businesses to make changes in the workplace. Companies that consistently rank at the top will automatically be more attractive to a larger portion of the talent pool than companies that are at the bottom and are not making changes.

EC: What advice do you have for leaders during these times to ensure a good company culture and good communication?

Maria: This is a period that is demanding, not only for managers but also for employees. There are many in the home office and you lose the usual point of contact that you get when you see each other. For example, employees who are pregnant, on leave, or have sick leave may feel more aware of this as a period in which they "disappear" even more from working life than they had usually done. I would recommend all managers to have regular meeting points with those with whom they no longer have as much contact.

Now that things have opened up a little more, you can have walking meetings or sit in a cafe. When we have less contact and more digital time, it is important that managers see their employees and prioritizes spending time figuring asking how they doing.

This is especially true for women who are on maternity leave. We see that leave is the major career barrier for women, and COVID-19 can quickly become a bigger barrier. My advice for managers is to be aware of their entire talent pool, even though they are temporarily out of the regular routine and everyday life.

EC: What advice do you give Econa members to help them become change-makers at their workplace?

Maria: It sounds cliché, but all contributions count. It is not necessary to stand on the barricades all the time in working life, but small concrete steps make a big difference. I would encourage everyone to first and foremost choose workplaces that pay full wages on leave. Full pay under leave contributes to real freedom of choice between the mother and father, which ensures that the financial means are less decisive for the length of the absence from the workplace. Secondly, I would encourage everyone to think about a career in a long-term perspective. Do it as soon as you start working. Decide on that kind of where you want to be in five and ten years, and tell your boss. Hear what it takes to reach your goals. What kind of experience do you need, and is there any competency replenishment that will be needed along the way. Most executives appreciate ambitious employees and would welcome such a conversation. These conversations help to realize the ambitions of employees. But perhaps even more importantly, they will help prevent any misunderstandings or grievances.

Finally, I would recommend anyone who is on leave to consider some form of graded leave. It does not mean a lot of work or working during the entire leave, but a little systematic and professional contact with the workplace can be the difference that makes you promoted during leave or that you get the salary jump you had not otherwise received. Be creative about how to spend your time. Can you follow up on a client when your baby is asleep, organize newsletters in the evenings? Or maybe work one day a week while someone else cares for the baby. There are many different solutions, here only the imagination sets the boundaries. I would like to emphasize that working under leave is not for everyone, and I do not point a finger at those who do not. BUT, contact with the working life while on leave has proven to be important for some. So you have a long-term career, want a top manager job and get pregnant. Make an assessment of how you can properly use the leave, for the employer and you sell and the baby.

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