Flexible working not a silver bullet

While flexible working has its merits for working mums, it isn’t the only key to unlock gender equality.

Flexible working not a silver bullet
Diversity Council Australia’s (DCA) Annual Diversity Debate was held in Sydney this month, with the audience swinging to the negative on whether flexible working was the key to gender equality.

“To me, it’s a mathematical equation: greater flexibility for both sexes + clear career paths = gender equality,” Tracey Spicer, journalist and speaker for the affirmative team, argued.

However, flexibility can have the adverse effect of leading to further gender inequality, according to Professor Marian Baird, director of the Woman and Work Research Group at The University of Sydney and speaker for the negative team.
Baird stated that women – especially mothers – use flexible work policies more than men. This leads to hour, pay and promotion gaps, which can hinder women’s progression in the workplace. The use of flexible work policies can also signify to some employers a lack of commitment to career.

A key argument made by the negative team was that flexible working was not the ‘silver bullet’ for gender equality, with real change requiring gender pay equity and for sex-based harassment/discrimination needing to be addressed.

Sixty-eight per cent of the 160-strong audience of CEOs, HR directors and business leaders sided with the negative team.

“Audience feedback shows gender equality and flexible working are top of mind for business leaders. Both sides agreed that employers can’t afford to ignore flexible working as a pathway to gender equality,” Nareen Young, CEO of DCA, said.

The audience was also surveyed on their own organisation’s approach to flexible working and gender equality. The majority (65%) of participants stated their organisation had developed its own business case for flexible working, with 60% stating that getting women into leadership positions was their organisation’s highest priority regarding gender equality.

However, there is still work to be done. The majority (51%) revealed their organisation did not actively promote flexible work arrangements for men, and only a small amount (12%) stating their organisation regularly advertised managerial positions that could be filled on a part-time basis.

Further evidence of gender imbalance has been revealed in another study relating to talent mobility In a recent study released by Ernst & Young Australia (E&Y), Your Talent in Motion: Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey 2013, it was found that 81% of employees on short-term overseas assignments were male. Men also make up 85% of long-term assignments.

“We see this regularly in Australia where the default position is to deploy male staff members on highly sought after global assignments,” Kathy McCombie, human capital partner at E&Y, said.

McCombie added that mobility has the potential to enhance and develop employees, and can also help drive retention, developing top talent and high performers for future leadership positions. As such, allowing women to access more of these opportunities will help develop them for future leadership positions.
“The fact that less than 20% of assignees are female should sound alarm bells for businesses seeking to improve their gender balance at senior levels of their organisation,” McCombie said.

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