AICD Progress Report: Achieving gender diversity through flexible working

Wyse Women was recently invited to contribute to the AICD Gender Diversity Progress Report.

Read on for a preview or download the full article here.

Flexible working is one of the most effective tools at our disposal to increase the participation of women in the workforce. Why? Put simply it enables women to return to work quicker after a career break and remain in the workforce for longer.

Let’s start with what flexible working is not. It’s not less work, it’s not less output, it’s not less hours and it’s not scores of empty desks. These negative associations have clouded our judgement on a practice which, aside from promoting gender diversity, also leads to a more productive, innovative and profitable workforce (McKinsey 2017, Bain 2016, Credit Suisse 2017, BCG 2018, HBR 2014).

Success lies in the definition, and the key is keeping it broad. Flexibility might mean a shorter working week for some, but for others it could be the ability to work from home occasionally, leave work an hour early, or start a few hours later on a Monday.

It essentially requires a mind-set shift from ‘hours worked’ to ‘output’ and the acknowledgment that engaged employees are more motivated, ambitious and productive during the hours dedicated to work.

Studies have shown that workers are typically only productive for up to three hours of an eight hour traditional working day so it is easy to see why letting employees have more control over how they approach their workload doesn’t equate to less work, just more productive hours.

Flexible working is too often spoken about as an employee benefit when in fact the positive impact to businesses and society is just as compelling. It is estimated that women returning to the workforce could add $398 billion to the Australian GDP; our carbon footprint would fall with less people driving to work (currently 69% of Australians use their cars to commute); and the improved health and wellbeing of our workforce would relieve pressure on our medical services as mental health is the number one reason Australians visit their GP.

Up to 15 per cent of those women actively seeking flexible roles are at executive level; women who should be filling our boardroom pipeline. They want to continue to contribute. If we fail to offer them this opportunity, with no exaggeration, we are looking at forfeiting thousands of years of experience from the industry. This is significant as not only do we lose these women from senior management roles and future boardroom positions, but we are also depriving our younger female generation of inspiring role models.

Employers are failing to attract up to 25 per cent of the workforce by only offering full time, non-flexible positions.

Furthermore, the assumption that only mothers require flexibility is short-sighted, and helps to reinforce the assumption that mothers are solely responsible for childcare. This is an important cultural shift that is required. We need to normalise flexible working to encourage more women to apply for senior roles. Unfortunately there is still a long way to go, especially when you consider only 1.4 per cent of companies in Australia have set a target for men’s engagement in flexible working practices.

One of the challenges is often establishing a receptive culture to flexible working. Only 25 per cent of organisations that offer flexible working provide manager training. The success of a flexible scheme lies in the hands of teams and their managers. Being equipped with the tools to competently manage a workforce that might be remote, and not rewarded by the hours spent in the office, is crucial.

Equally important is the corresponding investment required in technology to facilitate a flexible workforce. When looking at progress reports this is an important consideration as a flexible scheme on its own isn’t necessarily conducive to a stronger female workforce if the infrastructure and culture haven’t first been established.

The bottom line is women mostly require flexibility for a relatively short period of their professional lives. However, this time can often fall in crucial career-building years. By not supporting them through this phase, we are forcing them to opt out, or stall, in their careers making their journeys to senior management, and ultimately the boardroom, longer and harder.

Click here to download the full AICD Gender Diversity Progress Report April-August 2018.


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