Women and the Flexible Workplace

Women and the Flexible Workplace

“We have to accept that people are whole – part work, part family and friends, part community – we need to link up our home, work and community lives.” Julie McKay, Executive Director of UN Women Australia

Although women are well embedded in the workplace in the 21st century, long-standing corporate and societal attitudes and practices are still making it difficult for women to move into leadership roles. The exclusion isn’t deliberate, but the issues that create the obstacles still need to be addressed.

One of the elements identified as a barrier to women moving into corporate leadership positions is rigidity around working hours. Many workplaces offer flexible hours to help workers achieve a better work-life balance, but the way such flexibility is accessed and attitudes to those who take advantage of those opportunities – as though those seeking flexibility aren’t taking their work seriously enough – remain problematic.

Jen Dalitz, founder and CEO of Sphinxx – a social enterprise committed to achieving gender balance in leadership – thinks that part of the problem is that workplace flexibility is still all about the company. In a post on Ernst & Young Global’s site, EY, about women in leadership, Dalitz said:

“The employer demands flexibility of the employee: to work back late or come in early; to travel for business needs; to fit their annual leave around the company’s peak periods; to perform additional responsibilities or higher duties to cover for colleagues when they’re on leave.”

The article continues:

It’s time for Australia to stop setting their employees up for failure and review our systems to reflect the reality of dual-income and multi-responsibility families.

Perhaps the corporate world needs to rid itself of the expectation that all workers – regardless of gender, family/carer commitments or other needs and obligations – must conform to a default corporate structure steeped in and built around the tradition of a single income-earner (usually male).

Is it time for the corporate world to take on the responsibility for making its structures more inherently flexible to meet the needs of the communities in which they operate in the 21st century?

So how can businesses dismantle their traditional structures and develop new approaches to work? With the digital age making it easier for people to work from different locations and at different times, there are a number of ways to build a new workplace. The EY post suggests some topics to consider, including:

  • Designing work measurements around outcomes rather than the number of hours spent in the office
  • Redesigning job concepts to optimise those outcomes
  • Reassessing the role of office location in getting the work done
  • Aligning office hours with school hours

Instead of people having to fit their lives around a rigid corporate structure, a new corporate structure that embraces contemporary expectations would lead to better balance for everyone: individuals, families, communities and businesses alike.

Author: Narrelle Harris
Academic Advisor: Professor Amalia Di Iorio

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Should workplaces be changing their structure to meet worker and community needs, or should workers and communities continue to work around corproate needs? Share your thoughts with us.

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