Research has found that while the new emphasis on flexible working has many benefits for men and women, it can also have adverse effects on career progression.
The report Equitable Flexibility in Australia: Reshaping Our Workforce was conducted in partnership between Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women.
In its opening statements, Sam Mostyn, Chief Executive Women’s president, said, “men and women need to have equal access to and uptake in working flexibly, without negative judgments or repercussions for career progression.”
“Only when the playing field levels will all employees have equal opportunities to advance professionally.”
While Australia is best in the world globally for women’s educational attainment, the economic participation and opportunity ranking of Australian women decreases dramatically.
Back in 2011, Australia was 18th globally in economic participation and opportunity according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Now, it has fallen to 70th.
Similarly, in 2011 we ranked 23rd overall on the Global Gender Gap Index, but have since dropped to 50th place.
The report found that working from home during the pandemic had an impact on gender equity in the workplace. 57 per cent of men said the workplace became more gender equitable, though only 43 per cent of women said the same.
Women said that ‘family distractions at home were the biggest driver of inequality’, with the report also noting that this factor was ‘not noted as strongly by men’. The report evaluated that this ‘may account for women’s lower perception of equality during the pandemic’.
According to the research, both women and minority groups were more likely to adopt flexible work, and to participate in the workforce itself if there are flexible options.
“Flexibility results in more people participating in the workforce overall, which creates more diverse cohorts,” the authors wrote.
“Diversity, in turn, boosts economic performance.”
However, lack of thoughtfully planned flexible working “can have unintended adverse consequences,” they added.
“Employees view restrictions to career progression, longer work hours, and the need to be constantly accessible/‘on call’ as the biggest disadvantages of flexibility. There are also perceptual issues.”
“Flexible workers are often perceived as being less committed to their roles and organisations.”
They raised that those who work flexible can be ‘out of sight and out of mind’, put by one senior executive surveyed as ‘death by a thousand cuts’, where missing out on those seemingly minor in-office conversations can have a cumulative negative effect,
Ultimately, the report asserts, it is women who miss out on those opportunities the most in Australia.
“Women make up 67 per cent of part-time workers and are nearly three times more likely to use a flexible working arrangement to manage caring responsibilities than their partners (80 per cent compared to 28 per cent).”
“Research from the Melbourne Institute affirms these findings and suggests that flexible work conditions could be a driving factor in career decisions for women but not men, and a key reason why gender disparity in the workforce is not narrowing,” the report said.
Flexible work arrangements can indeed keep women in the workforce, positively affecting their performance.
“However, if flexible work practices are not designed, offered, practised, or encouraged equally by men, they can intensify inequities in the workplace.”
The report instead suggests an emphasis on equitable flexibility, which is ‘intentional and strategic’, rather than a crisis response.
Featured Image: iStock/filadendron
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