19 April 2018

Many workplaces publicise that they have flexible work policies, leveraging it when recruiting new hires, but there is a lot more that needs to be done in practice to bring these policies to life. Giving men and women equal access to flexible work arrangements is a start, but issues such as career progression and gender discrimination in a flexible workforce also need to be addressed.

Flexible work arrangements may include anything from working from home to being able to job share or have time in lieu, and they are in high demand. A recent study found that 77% of Australians would happily take a pay cut if they could just work from home and research shows that employers would also benefit through increased engagement and productivity.

Many often want access to flexibility to manage their family responsibilities, and given that both parents work in 47.4% of couple families, flexible work arrangements benefit both men and women. But it’s not just parents who would like to have choice in their working arrangements. Flexible work arrangements should be available to everyone equally, but this isn’t always the case.

Traditional stigmas still prevail

Cultural stereotypes that position women as carers and men as breadwinners have hindered women in the past, but it is now clear that men are also impacted by them. According to research by Monash University, men no longer consider their parental role as being synonymous with earning, yet almost 90% feel pressured to earn for their family. Further, only 16% felt that men are as accepted as carers as woman are in their workplace.

This stigma prevents men from asking for or being granted access to flexible working arrangements. In fact, the Australian Human Rights Commission has found that men are twice as likely to have flexible working requests denied and over 27% have experienced discrimination when requesting, taking or returning from parental leave.

While gender stereotypes are a significant barrier to accessing flexible working conditions, other stigmas also get in the way. For example, many 66% of millennials have indicated that they would prefer to shift their work hours while others believe they should be measured solely on output rather time at work. These ideas require a shift in mindset – ‘face time’ doesn’t necessarily equate to working hours.

If we are to achieve true diversity and flexibility in the workplace, we need to break down these cultural barriers and create new and equitable norms.

Flexible work policies are only the start

Many organisations only pay lip service to their flexible work policies. Recent research by the Diversity Committee of the ACT Division of the Property Council of Australia  found that while 93.46% of organisations provide flexible working arrangements, 21% of respondents believed they weren’t encouraged. While 70% of Australian professionals have indicated an interest in job sharing, this flexible work arrangement is still the exception not the rule.

Research by Bain and Company also found that men who take advantage of flexible work policies feel less supported by their managers and receive less advocacy than women when it comes to career progression. It is possible, that perhaps for the first time, they are experiencing the barriers that have affected women for centuries. Other research has also found that men believe their chances of promotion are reduced by working part-time. On the flip side, women with access to flexibility in their workplace were more satisfied with their employers and felt more committed to their careers.

To provide a truly flexible workplace, organisations need to give employees the tools and processes they need to make it a success. This may include laptop computers, mobile phones, remote access technology and even ergonomic chairs for their home. According to research by the Property Council of Australia, 21% of organisations surveyed failed to provide the essential technology that enabled flexibility.

For Australian businesses and workers to benefit from flexible working conditions, it is imperative that people at every level change the way they view gender roles. Flexible working arrangements should be seen for what they are – a personal choice irrespective of gender or family responsibilities.

Flexible working conditions should be available and accessible to everyone – without prejudice, judgment or repercussion. This is crucial not just to retain talent when people become parents, but to keep up with the changing demands and needs of all workers and give everyone the freedom to balance their work and their life.

Moulis Legal is proud to sponsor the Property Council of Australia’s Award for Diversity > 250 Employees, recognising the positive contribution made by organisations that demonstrate a holistic and long-term commitment to diversity within the property industry |