"If you lie to me and tell me you're sick and can't come to work when it's really your child that is sick, I will fire you." That's what we told our employees, and we meant it. We wanted their truth so we could always trust them. We wanted them to say, "I'm staying at home so I can focus on what is most important to me at this moment in time, my child."
When women and men must choose between being a good parent and being a good employee, it sucks the passion right out of them. It's demeaning and belittling and encourages second-rate work and remorse-filled parenting. But it doesn't have to be that way, and we proved it.
We held the national rights to a retail company and became wildly successful selling things no one really needed. We weren't brought up to take that lightly. Our employees and staff were 95% female. They made sure we flourished financially so we made sure they had guilt-free lives that were as seamless as possible.
Imagine a company that believed you should practice the same values from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. as you do from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Imagine a company that had a daycare center called "The Department of the Future" right in the middle of the building. Sick rooms for children who were too sick to go to school, but not so sick they needed to stay home. Breastfeeding rooms, cutting gardens, vegetable patches and a cafeteria given over to a mentally-challenged youth group so they could operate a business selling 125 employees breakfast and lunches. Imagine being paid to work in the community during your regular working hours at safe houses for women who were escaping violence so you really understood the issues, being encouraged to take courses paid for by the company that would fuel your imagination like cooking, gardening, flower arranging (all activities that help a marketing mind) and getting six months' paid sabbatical after 10 years of employment so that you could become reenergized.
Far from being "extras," these simple practices nurtured fearless originality. We didn't do this to be generous. We were parents ourselves and recognized the issues of home and heart not only affected our employee's lives, but had a tremendous impact on our corporate pride and our bottom line too. Nothing mattered more to our economic future than the well-being and happiness of our employees and the more creative and compassionate we became at solving their problems, the better our financial results were. You simply cannot ask people to place their emotional lives directly behind their professional lives and hope for loyalty.
It is interesting to note that socially responsible businesses, seeded by basic human values and nurtured by an unchanging code of ethics, are often started by demoralized employees. Usually when they discover, working in traditional management systems, they are wearing personal and emotional lives two sizes too small.
To me, it's obvious: Whether you are an employer or an employee, if you want to feed your soul, as well as your child, you can't get there from "here." Stop hitting your head on the top bunk. If you try to come at it from traditional angles, your success is going to knock the spiritual stuffing right out of you. Women and men alike are finding they want to succeed, but not at all costs; they must invent their own workplace to match the landscape of their lives, one that provides food for the table and gives social and emotional meaning to their personal life. Once you understand it's not you that's crazy, it's the system, you begin to invent work that can become a joyous expression for your soul no matter what industry you're in.
Women and men can redefine what it means to be successful, but first they need to be honest with themselves. The question isn't, "What should we value?" Instead, ask, "What do we value?" And the answer to that is, of course, dignity. It's what everyone wants.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.
This story appears in the Issue 51 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, May 31.