Could flexible working shatter the glass ceiling?

Businesses have come some way in smashing the glass ceiling that historically blocked women from reaching the boardroom, yet global talent pipelines are still routinely leaking females.

Blonde woman sitting on her bed whilst working on her laptop - flexible workingNot only do pressures of family life mean that professionals can be overlooked, but women who are successful often find that they must sacrifice their work-life balance in order to climb ever-higher. However, there are ways to prevent this from being the case and voicing your ambition is often the first step.

According to ‘Women Matter’, a report from McKinsey & Co, the global management consultancy, 80% of the 1,400 managers surveyed believed that having children was compatible with a top-level career for men. However, this figure dropped sharply to 63% when the same question was asked about women’s capabilities to manage both commitments. But what does this prove other than that (unconscious) gender bias may have been present in some respondents? Well, it shows that many women who have children aren’t filling the top jobs, as examples are not being set that could push these figures higher.

Dianne Lynne Bevelander, Professor of Management Education at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, has commented on this issue: “Unsurprisingly, societal expectations of motherhood and perceptions of work-family conflict have also been found to contribute to current organisational leadership imbalances… Aside from the obvious loss of talent that the scarcity of women in senior organisational positions represents, evidence exists to suggest that this comes at a significant performance cost. Companies with the highest percentage of women in management positions have been shown to deliver greater returns to shareholders.”

Yet many businesses are now acknowledging that losing female talent can undermine their overall success. One popular avenue of retaining women employees that many firms are exploring is adopting a flexible working policy – either allowing remote working or alternative start or finish times to facilitate juggling of other commitments. In fact, research conducted by Women in Recruitment and supported by The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), revealed that 63% of respondents believed that flexible working opportunities would encourage more women to stay in their posts. By being open about objectives and engaging with networks that can make it happen – such as Women In Recruitment, an organisation of which I am a board member – women are being exposed to more of these flexible options which allow them to comfortably manage both their work and domestic lives.

Here at Empiric, retaining female talent is an initiative close to the heart of our business, which is why we have revolutionised the maternity and paternity packages offered. Women can work flexible hours or remotely throughout their pregnancy, and lead parents are then offered up to 18 months of remote working after their return date. Second parents are offered six months of flexible working which includes starting work between 07:00 – 09:00 and finishing work an hour earlier. But offering these perks is only half the battle, and the onus lies with each female professional to find the perfect option for herself. By actively researching and discussing these types of incentive schemes, women not only increase their own knowledge of the subject, but they also push the discussion to the forefront of business.

As Professor Bevelander points out, “The World Economic Forum (2015) argues that women perform 66% of the world’s work and produce 50% of its food, yet they earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the world’s property.” But I think the times are changing. Businesses are now looking to attract and keep the top female talent which is, in turn, facilitating remote working and returnship policies. One thing is for certain: as the war for talent rages, no company can afford to lose its key players, but it is also up to women to find policies that suit them by speaking up and engaging with peers to keep a finger on the pulse of what is being offered to those in similar situations.

Sam Kamyar, Managing Director at Empiric.

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