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What Will We Return To?

There’s a new word popping up in my conversations about the future of work: “returnship.” It seems to stand-in for a lot of questions: Who’s coming back to a physical office and when? (For office workers, I’ve heard September, October, January, and never.) How much togetherness is necessary for creativity and innovation? (I’ve heard three days a week, and also three days a month.) In a hybrid model, how do you make sure flexibility doesn’t hurt women and BIPOC when it comes time for raises and promotions? (Performance reviews are “petri dishes for bias,” according to this Harvard Business Review article — but tweaks to what you measure can help.)

And most crucially, in the rush to get back to some kind of normal, how do you stay focused on creating cultures of true belonging?

All these swirling questions, and the varied and individual answers that are emerging, represent a seismic shift. “I see you working” is no longer an acceptable way to measure someone’s value. Instead, the most forward-looking companies are saying, “I see you as a whole, complex person who has much to contribute; our job is to help you do it.” A nice example of this new orientation: Twitter and its company-wide mental health days, called #DaysofRest.

It’s frankly thrilling to be at the nexus of so many of these conversations, and to watch women leaders not just open up about their own vulnerability, but embrace it as a way of making space for others. As Bo Young Lee, Chief Diversity Officer at Uber, said at our Changemakers conference in March, “I’ve been transparent with my own struggles. We have this idea that if we show what we’re struggling with, it’s a weakness.”

Showing who we are is powerful. There is no one-size-fits-all quick fix that will make our work lives sustainable. That makes telling our individual stories, in all their complexity, an essential act.

Peggy Northrop

Peggy Northrop

Peggy Northrop is CEO of Watermark, a nonprofit membership organization focused on redefining leadership. Peggy joined Watermark in February 2020. A media consultant, communications expert, advisor and entrepreneur, Peggy spent the first two decades of her career as an award-winning editor in New York City, where she held senior editorial positions at some of the most iconic names in women’s media, including Vogue, Glamour and Real Simple, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of More and Global Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest. She returned to the Bay Area in 2013 to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Sunset Publishing, and in the same year co-founded Shebooks, an e-book company devoted to publishing stories by and for women. Peggy is an advisor and investor with Portfolia, which creates investment funds designed for women to back the companies they want to see in the world. She is also a mentor with SHE-CAN, the educational organization that trains the next generation of female leaders in post-genocide countries. She currently serves on the board of directors of Washington & Jefferson College.

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