A report from Timewise and Deloitte has highlighted the practical solutions needed to transform working practices perceived to exacerbate gender imbalance across the UK.
The five-point action plan, A Manifesto for Change: A Modern Workplace for a Flexible Workforce, aims to enable UK businesses to bring about the change needed to address outdated working practices, and sets out the key components required:
- Leaders must provoke cultural change – challenge the status quo
- Flexible working to be gender neutral – emphasise the value of male and female role models
- Design flexibility into jobs as standard – ask “why not” rather than “why”
- Influence the attitudes and actions of managers – provide them with permission and support
- Collect the data – measure the success of flexible working
The Manifesto is built on new findings from a large-scale study, which included a survey of almost 2,000 professional workers as well as in-depth interviews with a diverse range of UK business leaders.
The study highlights that career progression is often seen as being limited for flexible workers. It suggests that, even when business leaders want to accommodate the flexible working needs of their employees, there is a disconnect between what is said at the top and how that trickles down into everyday working life:
- 1 in 3 (30 per cent) of our survey respondents (92% of whom were women) felt they are regarded as having less status and importance because of their flexible working pattern.
- 1 in 4 (25 per cent) felt they were given access to fewer opportunities AND missed-out on potential progression and promotion opportunities.
- And a further 1 in 4 (28 per cent) felt disadvantaged because they couldn’t attend work-related events outside of working hours.
The study also highlights that the barriers to successfully embedding flexible working are mainly cultural, such as the attitudes and behaviours of managers. A majority of respondents agreed that organisations need to step away from passive policies and approaches, and instead:
- Create a workplace culture in which people are judged on the work they do rather on the hours they work (7 in 10)
- Recruit and train managers who truly support their team to achieve work/life balance (7 in 10)
- Implement a range of suitable flexible working options (6 in 10)
Leaders from a range of industries were interviewed for the research, including Miriam González Durántez, partner at law firm Dechert; Keith Howells, Chairman of Mott MacDonald; Cilla Snowball, Group CEO and Chairman of AMV BBDO; and Fiona Cannon, Group Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group.
Timewise co-founder & joint CEO, Karen Mattison MBE, said: “The growing momentum around gender imbalance in the workplace, highlighted by the recent focus on the pay gap, means that it’s time for businesses to take action. Our new Manifesto outlines the tangible steps that will allow leaders to deliver real change.
“For too long, there’s been an emphasis on ‘fixing the women’ and too little on fixing the system that makes it hard for them to succeed. The traditional workplace was designed for a family structure in which one person stayed at home and another went out to work. This is no longer the case for the majority of UK households. So employers need to catch up with the needs and aspirations of the modern workforce, or risk getting left behind.”
Emma Codd, Managing Partner for Talent at Deloitte, said: “The last four years have marked a huge change for our firm. Four years ago staff were telling us they wanted better work-life balance; despite us providing all the standard flexible working options you would expect from an employer of 17,000+. It was playing out in our retention and engagement data, particularly for our female employees.
“Today, the story is very different – we have a reputation for providing our people with the means to balance a great career with commitments outside work. Now, work-life balance is no longer the main reason people choose to leave our firm; people actually choose to join us because of our approach to agile working, and our people tell us they feel trusted to decide when, where and how they work. We have achieved this change simply by focusing on our culture, and ensuring we offer people options that really work for them and the firm.”