It’s not just women who need the help to work flexibly

It’s not just for women

To be clear – there is a long way to go to get equitable employment arrangements for women. This includes pay, access to all roles, and flexible working arrangements.

Ironically perhaps, one of the ways we can address the imbalance is by supporting men to have more flexibility. 

What the stats say

This stat shocked me when I read it a few years back:

  • Employers are more likely to grant flexible working conditions to women, with more female respondents being successful compared to men.
  • 31% of respondents report that accessing flexible work arrangements will have a negative impact on their promotion chances.

And this research from the Diversity Council of Australia:

  • Workplace flexibility is a key driver of employment decisions for men, including young men, men approaching retirement and especially men who are both younger and are fathers.
  • Having the flexibility to manage family and personal life was in the top five job characteristics for all men and for young fathers it was the third most highly rated job characteristic.
  • 18% of men indicated that they had seriously considered leaving their organisations because of a lack of flexibility. This increases to 37% for young fathers.
  • Research from Europe shows that what highly paid men want most to be able to take time off from work to be with their families.

More research

Bain and co research indicates there are individual perceptions and risks of flexible working:

  • Men indicated that the key issues were a lack of senior support and the negative view of working flexibly held by their peers and management.

“Whilst opportunities exist, the environment management creates makes it difficult to participate.

“The arrangements worked as agreed but I have felt judgement for using them”

“My boss told me I wouldn’t be able to get promoted working part time”

Research from Australian Human Rights Commission shows that:

  • 27% of fathers have experienced some form of discrimination related to parental leave and return to work despite taking very short periods of leave
  • Men are also twice as likely to have their request to work flexible rejected. One respondent was told “part time is traditionally only something we make work for women”.

So why is this?

Telstra’s 2016 work-life index based surveyed 1200 employees and 600 employers and found there were multiple gaps.

  • Only 47% of employees surveyed said that they had flexible working in place compared with 84% of employers. And of the three quarters of employees who KNEW that they could work from home and who had expressed a desire to do so once a week, only half actually did.
  • The survey found that fear or paranoia plays a huge role for employees who work from home. 30% of employees expressed concern that their manager wouldn’t think they were doing enough, 27% worried about what their colleagues would think and almost a quarter feared missing out on opportunities as a result of reduced visibility.

Some of this research is a few years old now. Recent events will have definitely have changed some of the above perceptions. However.. There is more to be done. Much more.

What is this telling us?

The research illustrates that:

  • Employees don’t know about what is available.
  • If they do know, they are fearful of accessing it.

Many organisations have worked very hard over recent years to have excellent family friendly policies that are available to both partners. There are excellent examples of organisations that are progressive and flexible. Those same employers have sophisticated comms programmes to ensure that they are well known throughout their organisations.

And yet.

The fears expressed above remain.

Shadow of a leader

Annabel Crabb, political commentator and journalist wrote The Wife Drought – Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives.

“Leaders in a Global Economy – a study resulting in a high level collaboration between giant international firms including Deloitte, Eli Lilly, Goldman Sachs, IBM asked more than a 1000 very senior executives a series of searching questions – not only the usually heavily trodden terrain of such surveys= workplace experience, satisifction and ambition but deeper broader questions about what when on their lives.

Of the 1192 executives surveyed – half were men and half were women. Three quarters of the men had a wife or spouse who did not work. But that experience was exactly the opposite of the female executives. Three quarters of them had a husband like them who worked full time. The men got wives – in other words. And the women didn’t.

In some very senior jobs, the existence of a cooperative spouse is simply assumed. Let’s say you are required to go to Melbourne or Singapore straight away. The assumption is that firstly that you can just go. Often the assumption is that there is somone who can bring your stuff so you don’t have to waste time going home to pack. 

When the executives were asked who takes more responsibility for making childcare arrangements  – the division was immediately and resoundingly apparent. 57% of female senior business executives answered “I do.” Among the male executives only 1% gave this answer. Only 1%””

Fundamental change will occur when organisations have both the policies in place and the leadership and the culture within the workplace support and enable ALL employees to access those policies.

That means leaders becoming aware of any unconscious bias they hold around men taking time off to look after babies or ageing parents.The

Isn’t that a women’s job? 

It means being aware of what messages those in leadership positions (often men themselves) send to the men in their teams around how flexible working is perceived and valued.

It means leaders being aware of their shadow, and ensuring that they model positive behaviours. And create an environment where these practices can be nurtured.

It means taking a good look at why men aren’t using those policies. And really listening to the answers.

The Takeaway

Progressive policies are no longer enough. We need to listen, really listen to why (all) employees aren’t accessing those policies. And then understand what it means about changing the culture.



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Tammy Tansley
I am a coffee loving, energetic human who loves words, bright colours and spots, silly t'shirts and good champagne. Mum to two beautiful mischiefs. Long time wanderer around the world. Author. Blogger. Speaker.

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