A leading academic explains why employers are not adopting flexible policies ‘out of the goodness of their heart’
A policy known as “all roles flex” has now been adopted by a number of large employers as a means of breaking down the remaining barriers to gender equality in the workplace, according to a leading researcher at the University of Sydney Business School.
Under this policy any employee for any reason can access flexibility, said Associate Professor Rae Cooper.
“It has been implemented by the big four banks, the major accounting firms and, most recently, the NSW public service which is the largest employer in the country.”
Cooper added that those companies are not adopting this approach out of the “goodness of their heart”, they are primarily doing it because they see the business benefit and the impact that it can have on employee performance.
Flexible working arrangements for both men and women can result in more gender equality in the workplace and boost corporate profits through productivity gains, Dr Cooper said.
This is particularly significant given that despite decades of talk, women’s careers are still hampered by glass ceilings, glass walls that segregate men and women into gender determined roles and “sticky floors” that confine women to dead-end jobs.
“Flexibility means that women are not forced to make a choice between having a good family life and having a good career,” she said.
Dr Cooper’s research indicates that while many employers are wary of the cost, a policy like “all roles flex” can pay for itself through talent retention and productivity gains.
“If you look at any measure, organisations that perform well on flexibility, perform very well financially,” she said.
“They retain top female talent rather than lose their skills. Employees are more engaged, more committed and more productive.
“Flexibility is an investment in people and their skills and that has an impact on the bottom line.”
While flexibility in Australia usually means reduced hours, Dr Cooper believes that employers can offer much more.
“Flexibility can also mean working from home one day a week or managing hours across the year to accommodate school holidays.”
However, she emphasised that flexibility doesn’t always have to be around care. “There is a strong case to be made for mainstreaming flexibility and making it accessible for all people not just mothers with young children.”
Indeed, she said that to work effectively, men must also have the same access as women to flexible working arrangements.
“We know that men are less likely to request flexibility at work but disturbingly, we also know that they are more likely to be refused when they request it,” Dr Cooper said.
“This not only limits what men can do in their family but also constrains what their female partners can do.
“The more that we say what men do is work and what women do is care, the more we entrench those inequalities and those gender based norms.”