In this guest post, Fifty Acres founder and Women in Media Awards winner Jo Scard (pictured below) tackles the issue of workplace flexibility and argues why more companies need to accommodate for working mums.
It’s 2017 and things have changed for women, right? Flexible work in creative and PR industries, no problem. How wrong can you can be?
When I sat down to co-author The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with Melissa Doyle in 2007, the main challenge for working mothers was blindingly obvious: the illusory nature of ‘flexible work’. Back then the flexible work concept was just dawning. It was a buzzword in the corporate world. The idea behind it was that a flexible workplace could retain its female talent, rather than losing these staff when they had children, as traditionally happened.
Flexible work was clearly a great idea. The problem was, scratch the surface and you quickly saw it was little more than a buzzword. I knew several women who had ‘negotiated’ flexible work, yet faced sideways glances from some male colleagues when they left the office at 5pm for the after-school run – including me.
Fast-forward to 2017 and things have changed for women, right? Well, last Friday I attended The 3% Conference Australasia and was saddened – if not quite shocked – to hear the very same comment: women still face sideways glances if they juggle mothering around work. While flexible work may have graduated from a buzzword to commonplace, in practice it still seems to be largely an aspirational concept at best.
As a long-time champion of flexible work, I find it especially frustrating that it remains illusory for most women. I started Fifty Acres – The Communications Agency over 7 years ago now to make flexible work a reality. I knew we could reinvent the old agency model – with technology, we could introduce scalability and flexibility both to benefit our staff and our clients. Dismissing the raised eyebrows, I set up a virtual office, underpinned by a secure project management system. While our technology has advanced, our virtual office set-up remains the same today. It ensures we have broad geographic reach and a low environmental impact, enabling us to keep overheads as low as possible for our clients. We are also more flexible to provide on the ground advice and assistance, as and where it’s needed.
What does our flexibility mean for our team? It means most of last month one staff member was working from Spain, so she could immerse herself in Spanish language, in between client conference calls and proposal writing. It means we have several work-at-home mums on our team who manage their responsibilities around school runs and hanging out. We have Millennials that love the freedom too – it’s a great way to work, period. We have Millennials working from Byron, Melbourne and small rural towns.
It just so happens that we have an all-female team. While this certainly wasn’t planned, it’s a fact I’m proud of. I will continue to champion women workers and a flexible workplace because I know it works. Our team’s dedication, passion and ability to deliver and exceed expectations shines through in the loyalty and lasting relationships we have built with our stable of clients. I know just how far career mums can excel, so long as you give them the freedom to shine.