Is flexibility only for women? Why don’t you support flexibility for men?
In my role as CEO of FlexCareers these are two questions I get asked – a lot. I speak to countless heads of HR, diversity and inclusion and talent acquisition managers and directors and numerous people in between. I never get sick of the conversation around flexibility, changing the way that we work, the future of work and women and work.
So how do I answer these questions? The truth is I see it as a wave. At the moment the reality is, that women are the ones asking for flexibility much more than men. Why is this so? Well mainly because they are the ones who are still doing the majority of caring in the family realm. Until this changes they will be the ones who will need flexibility in order to return to work after parental leave and for women to grow their careers whilst still being the main care givers for children and ageing parents. It is not a ‘nice to have’ but a deal breaker when it comes to negotiating a new role.
The next wave will be a shift from working mothers to working parents. At a recent WGEA event on Father’s Day we talked openly about the perceptions of men asking for flexibility and there is a lot of stigma around it whilst it is seen as acceptable for women to ask for flexibility. (For more information on this read the CEW Report on Flexibility). We are starting to hear stories of men taking the primary caring role, or men leaving early to pick up kids from school and so on. Part of the reason for this is the increase of both parents working which then puts increased pressure on them regarding caring responsibilities. Open and honest dialogue is taking place amongst parents that are saying – children need to be dropped off and picked up from school/sport/ music etc., sick children cared for and so on – so this is being seen as a dual responsibility, not just a woman’s role. Slowly but surely. It is still a very female domain. But we are starting to see it so we must support and encourage our men in working flexibly. The bonus is that they are more involved in their children’s lives rather than being an absent parent.
The third wave is flexibility for all. Some organisations have gone all roles flex. Mentioning no names (as I have spoken to most of them) that it is great in theory but very few are truly fully flexible. The reality is that they are far from what the DCA outlines as true mainstream flexibility in their recent report FutureFlex. But just because we are making mistakes or not actually fully flexible doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. I applaud the companies that are setting the bar high saying that everyone has the right to work flexibly. Having children is not the only reason to ask for flexibility. Anyone who would like to work flexibility should be able to for whatever their reason.
At the end of the day, this is about the way we work, not a privilege that should be given as a bonus for meeting target, or because you have a child or that you have worked with the company for 12 months.
So in short, do I want to see all roles flex for both men and women – YES YES YES. But we are not there yet. I take my hat off to each organisation that is walking the flexibility journey, it is not an easy path, but a necessary one. One that we are here to support.
Natalie has over 20 years experience as an HR and Learning & Development professional across government, education and the corporate sector. She is also the founder of Launch Pod and most recently the CEO of FlexCareers. She is passionate about economically empowering women and driving real change in the world to make it a better place for her two children.