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Flexible Working Crucial For Gender Equality In Australia

Flexible working from home - Image - She Mentors

Flexible Working Crucial For Gender Equality In Australia

Flexible working is crucial for gender equality in Australian workplaces in 2019. In fact, there’s never been more powerful case for implementing flexible working arrangements than in 2019.

When positively used, studies show that flexible working promotes greater productivity, creativity, and diversity. It’s linked to better performance, employee satisfaction and greater teamwork and collaboration. But it’s particularly important for keeping women in the workforce, and therefore progressing women in leadership.

At some point, most women will face the question of how to balance career advancement with family aspirations. In a global work culture that’s still skewed in favour of men, establishing flexible working conditions is key to equipping women with the time and resources that they require. Caregiving, along with desire for work-life balance, remain the top reasons why employees of both genders choose to work flexibly.

What is flexible working?

What does flexible working look like in 2019 and how successful are Australian organisations at creating flexible workplace conditions for both women and men?

Flexible work may be defined in many ways. Essentially, we can think about it as a way of working where employees enjoy a measure of control over when, where and how they work. When organisations implement flexible work conditions positively, workers are given space to engage in part-time work, work from home, to set their own hours and take leaves of absence when needed.

The unified belief is that flexibility at work is a critical factor in not only keeping women in the workforce, but in making space for them to return after taking leave to care for families.

Findings from Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency found that in 2015, just 48% of non-public-sector organisations with more than 100 employees had a formal policy in place on flexible working arrangements.

Further, as things continue, uptake remains modest. In 2015, a report titled The Power of Flexibility: Boosting Gender Parity found that only 3% of female respondents and 28% of male respondents use flexible work arrangements. This report, published by global management consultancy, Bain & Company has been used widely as a resource to understand how flexible working standards are progressing in Australia.

Who benefits from flexible working?

The 2015 research report, conducted by Bain & Co, in partnership with Chief Executive Women (CEW) showed that, along with “visible and committed leadership”, women believe that “creating working models that support men and women with family responsibilities” are the most important actions to overcoming barrier to women’s progression into leadership roles.

Flexible working doesn’t just benefit women. As men become more active in caregiving roles at home, work flexibility is becoming a bigger demand. Companies that are committed to employee satisfaction, recognise that developing flexible working models is key to retaining talent and remaining relevant.

Back in the office, it is clear that when women enjoy flexible work arrangements that support their ability to balance career and family, men reap the rewards too.

The Diversity Council of Australia says that with progress towards gender equality in workplaces, men enjoy:

  • workplaces with greater productivity, creativity, and diversity because of the wider pools of talent
  • fairer processes on which they are based
  • higher quality work resulting from greater teamwork and collaboration and a reduced emphasis on competitiveness.

Why flexible working is good for business

When positive flexible working policies are put in place, companies are also set to gain. Companies like Google, Telstra and Westpac have already jumped on board with agile work environments. As David Thodey, former Telstra CEO and member of the Male Champions of Change, points out, “You need a performance-based culture, where flexibility is just built in. Every job can be done flexibly.”

Instead of the oft-held myth that women who seek flexible options have checked out of their careers, the research by Bain & Co and CEW actually found that women working flexibly were stronger advocates on their organisations than those who are not. A Credit Suisse report stated that when it came to corporate performance, “Companies with more female executives in decision-making positions continue to generate stronger market returns and superior profits.”

According The Power of Flexibility: Boosting Gender Parity, “women who work flexibly are equally, if not more, confident and committed to career progression than women who don’t”.

This corresponds with studies done by a number of other organisations too. Harvard Business School released a statement saying: “In gender diverse organisations, surveyed employees gave higher marks to their organisations in areas that are linked to better performance results including the work environment and values, direction, coordination and control, and of leadership. On the other hand, in organisations lacking gender diversity, employees gave lower marks”.

However, fewer than 50% of organisations have a workplace flexibility policy, and even when such policies so exist, they are often under-utilised, says the report.

What needs to happen to increase flexible working opportunities?

We’ve seen that everyone benefits when flexible working is used properly. But while flexible working is still seen as a novelty and rare privilege, the majority of Australian companies will continue to miss out on its positive effects.

According to The Power of Flexibility: Boosting Gender Parity, four actions must be taken by organisations to improve employees’ experiences with flexible working models. These involve:

  • actively encouraging uptake to make working flexibly the standard for every role
  • ensuring these flexible arrangements are effective for both women and men
  • ensuring a supportive culture and active support systems are in place, including strong commitment from the CEO and leadership team
  • providing clear policies, introducing facilitative technology and creating an agile work environment.

“If organisations get this right, flexible work arrangements can be used to boost productivity and advocacy, increase employee retention, provide the conditions for increased representation of women in senior leadership positions, and enable men and women to participate more equally as caregivers and secure a better work-life balance,” say the authors in The Power of Flexibility: Boosting Gender Parity.

Need advice on how to advocate for flexible working conditions in your workplace? She Mentors has a treasure trove of resources available to help. The Mentor Hour is a place to connect with other women in business who are navigating the same issues as you. It’s your chance to seek advice and offer your knowledge in return. Everyone has something to give and something to gain. Find out more about The Mentor Hour today!

Looking for inspiration and practical business advice? Check out our free podcast series with Australia's best female entrepreneurs! 

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