“The biggest single factor that will support women to become CEOs of top companies is driving a more flexibility-at-work agenda… that requires companies redesigning their workplaces for everyone, not just women but men as well.”
– Gail Kelly, retiring Westpac CEO
Let’s be honest – women have never had it so good or bad in terms of their participation in the workforce. The good news is we’re the closest we’ve ever been to equality in the workforce. The bad news is that we’re still barely represented in leadership positions in our top listed companies, we’re still paid a lot less and most of us are still doing the heavy lifting at home.
So what do we do about it? In The Flexible Workplace: Bend Don’t Break, we explained that for us, a flexible workplace has been the key. As a company we have more female leaders than male, pay equality and loyal, long serving employees. Below we’ve taken two very personal perspectives on this issue and hope to inspire others to build upon this growing call for more flexible workplaces.
The Flexible Workplace – from the boss
Kirrily Davies, General Manager, 42, Mother of 2
I really believe in flexible working hours. I think it’s the key to keeping women in the workforce. I think it’s the key to keeping your best staff working for you rather than for someone else and I think it’s the key to me being a much happier person at home and in the office.
Let me be clear, I push it on the boys as much as the girls. If the boys in the office have the flexibility to drop the kids at school, attend the occasional assembly, wait at home for that delivery that will be sometime between 9 and 12 then that frees the girls up, not just to come to work but to come to work with a little less pressure on their shoulders. Less pressure means better performance. Any time I’ve ever had serious issues with staff you can guarantee there were private external factors piling stress on them and it was spilling out at work.
Let’s face it, we’re all time poor. It would be great to slow down and smell the roses, but I’d like to be able to slow down as I push the kids out of the car in the morning! Trust me, a flexible workplace means less scabs on my kids knees and less tears in the morning.
The concept is simple. I pay my trusted staff for their time. If they have other commitments that mean they can’t start till 9.23 then fine, I pay them from 9.23. If they have to rush out the door at 4.10 then they get paid till 4.10. On the flipside if they happen to feel like logging on at 8.45pm I pay them. As an aside working at night is definitely not something I encourage and if this happens on a regular basis I give them a serious talking to because it really shouldn’t be needed. But at the same time I do it every now and again to keep on top of things so why shouldn’t they be paid for that? Yes this requires a lot of trust. I’ve only rolled this out to staff who’ve been with the company a few years and that I know have the attitude that will make this work. It’s also only for staff who want to work less not more.
I’m not about encouraging anyone to work more than a 40 hour week. I just don’t feel it’s necessary in our business and I don’t think it’s a great life choice. It’s also not for everyone. I’ve offered this to some people who haven’t taken it up because they need the structure of having to be at work at a certain time. Great, they know what works for them.
Some staff haven’t been here as long, while others will have roles that require them to be here standard hours. While I can’t offer them fully flexible hours, a flexible workplace is still possible. I offer unpaid time off at short notice with understanding and support. I make it as stress-free as possible. If you’re moving house or your wife is at home with sick kids and is having a breakdown do you really want the boss on your back as well? Work can be a place of refuge for people with kids – imagine your best and most talented staff feeling that work is the place they’d rather be. Easy and simple. They don’t even have to have kids. All you need to do is be flexible, after all isn’t that what you would want?
The Flexible Workplace – from the employee
Sophie, Copywriter, 25, Future PM
I’m basically the worst feminist ever. My role model is my mum who went back to work three months after having me because she wanted a career as well as family. I grew up loved and nurtured by her, watching her grow in her career and achieve her goals. She shared the challenges she faced in terms of the glass ceiling so I have a very real, very clear example of how it’s possible to have a family and have a career. What that’s meant for me is that I find powerful and driven women to be a normal thing.
Similarly my dad always told me I could do whatever I wanted and encouraged me to be expressive, creative and academic. I was always going to go to university. I was always going to have a career. I could get married and have babies if I wanted but I was raised with the expectation that I would find my path in life through my own achievements. So when I entered the real-world I thought all the whinging about female equality was a bit rubbish.
But then I saw the reality of what working life for women is actually like. I now realise gender equality, like most cultural shifts, isn’t just about me. It’s not just enough for me to say ‘I’ve never had to deal with sexism in the workplace’ because it’s not just about me. And when I look closer at my experience, it’s not true. Even in my short career I have been told that ‘female journalists can’t really handle big stories because they get too emotionally involved.’ And I’m grateful my upbringing has allowed me to identify sexism and be empowered to push back against it.
It’s not just blatant sexism that impacts a woman’s working life though. The next challenge in my career is the family question. I’m lucky enough to have a partner who intends to have a family with me. For me though, the biggest issue about having children is whether or not I can still have the life I’ve always expected for myself. I enjoy going to work, I enjoy being engaged with the work I do and I enjoy planning my career and achieving the goals I set for myself. What happens when I have to stop doing all those things to have kids? Will it be hard to start working again? Will I want to? Can I trust that my employer won’t hold having a family against me?
Working where I do I feel confident to answer at least one of those questions. No, they won’t hold it against me. Our company has a large proportion of female mangers and leaders. It also happens to have a large number of staff members who have children and balance their work life accordingly. Examples have been set where individuals can come to work, do their job without distraction, and then head off in time to grab the kids from school. We are encouraged to get what we need to do done while we’re here, and not to take our work home with us. Even as a younger staff member, I like being able to walk out the door, knowing that I smashed it during the day so that I can enjoy my time to myself outside of work.
My main concern with having children is the impact it will have on my career. I want to wait until my career is settled and I feel like I’m on a more stable path, but what if I leave it too late? This seems to be something I’m not alone in worrying about. I envy women who are sure they want to stop working and have kids. I’m unsure about what choices to make and even though I have positive examples around me, I still appreciate how hard it can be and how hard it was for my mum to get to that assembly, to get to the netball game and to find time to dedicate to me. Having said that though, it sure makes the future look a little less daunting working at a company where you know whatever choices you make, you’ll be supported and nurtured. Something I’d hope more and more companies embrace to hold on to the women who are valuable in their workplace.