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The Daily Juggle

Do the men in your office get the best office?

/ Feb 01, 2013 6:48AM / Print / ()

Do the men in your office get the best office?

We were discussing our open plan office the other day and the relative benefits of having a door that can be closed to the world when you need to conduct a confidential conversation, write an article or just think.

I shared the story of my first office with the team. I was editor of Dolly magazine and like every editor in the Australian Consolidated Press building in the late eighties and early nineties, woman or man, my office was the size of a studio apartment, complete with a sofa and coffee table. Creative meetings were held on and around that sofa, often with cakes and coffee to fuel the ideas. When I was pregnant with my first child, in the final year of my editorship of Dolly, I could lock the door and catch a quick afternoon nap before working on through the early evening. Those were the days.

Subsequent roles offered a mix of office types: from a large fishbowl with Harbour Bridge views and a boardroom-size meeting table to a tiny space without windows and room for little more than a desk.

In more recent years the trend has been towards an open plan office with meeting rooms to satisfy the need for confidentiality and thinking time.

The office set-up should be aligned to the outcome you are trying to achieve. The ideal office design enables the team to execute the plan that will achieve the organisation's business goals. An office should be more than just a place to house people.

When I joined EMAP to publish the women's magazines and websites in 2005, the then CEO wanted each of the Publishers to be focused on the company objectives, not just our own parts of the business. So he sat us together in an open plan pod and away from our editorial and commercial teams. As a result I was aware of all the major deals and decisions that were taking place in the other parts of the business and could offer input and any insight that I might have had.

As a rule I don't care if I work in an open plan office or a space with designated offices because I view an office plan as part of the implementation of strategy and not as a status symbol. However, I do have one caveat: equality.

Those who can't imagine equality being a factor may be surprised to learn that I once worked for an organisation where I was the only female in a group of half a dozen business leaders, and the only one without an office.

And it's not the only time I've experienced this. I worked in an open plan office some years ago where a special purpose built glass structure was created for a male manager who demanded his own office. It had to be glass because the rest of the space that was shared by a dozen or so other team members was so small that they would have struggled for light if the walls had been solid. The woman who was his equal wasn't given an office.

The leaders in the business pandered to this man's demand without considering the impact on the rest of the team, particularly the other senior managers in the business who remained office-less. For me, it's all or nothing.

Giving a man an office when a senior woman doesn't have one is no different to paying men more for doing the same job as the woman sitting next to him. It's called gender inequality and we need to rally against it.

Has this happened in your workplace? How did it impact team effectiveness?

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