The creation of a work and social environment which ensures women can fully contribute their economic potential by:
|Position||Women (%)||Women (Number of employees)||Men (%)||Men (Number of employees)|
|Managers, directors and senior officials||33%||774||67%||6,405|
|Professional, associate professional and technical jobs||47%||4,012||53%||4,494|
|All other occupations||54%||7,356||46%||6,405|
Source: Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2012, employees only
Three issues are critical at this stage: how business supports women by managing talent; the cost and availability of childcare; and access to flexible working opportunities.
Increased global competition; a workforce shifting from the public to the private sector; digitisation; an ageing population: these challenges demand that business recruit the best talent and hold onto an experienced and trained workforce.
Effective talent management encompasses a range of areas including, but not limited to, organisational capacity, individual development, performance improvement, workforce and succession planning. Specific talent management programmes include activities such as leadership coaching, networking, exposure to clients and formal training. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) 2012 ‘Learning and talent development’ survey just over half of all employers use some form of talent management in their companies. This has been in response to a range of factors such as external supply pressures, global competition, skills shortages and demographic changes, changes in business strategy, or corporate governance. We want to see more companies adopting a strategic approach to getting the best from their workforce; this will help avoid wasted potential in employees and ensure maximum return for investment.
It is vital that companies have effective talent management and promotion processes in place and this is particularly relevant for women, as their career path is often drastically altered by time away from the workforce because of family commitments. In addition, the transition of women back into work after maternity leave can cause particular problems for both women and business. A study by McKinsey found that leading law and accountancy firms were doing well in recruiting women but a discrepancy emerged in later promotion, with promotion rates markedly higher for men28.
There are existing resources that can help employers to improve their talent management, such as the CIPD range of guides available at http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/factsheets/talent-management-overview.aspx Some forward-thinking companies and organisations provide support through women’s networks mentoring and sponsorship programmes, which can make a huge difference to women’s career paths and prospects29. Women should actively seek out these opportunities.
There is also a key role for industry and sector bodies, including trade unions, to guide and support women through these periods of transition, to help them make the best choices for themselves, in light of their particular skills, ambitions and personal circumstances.
The cost of childcare is commonly cited by women as a barrier to progression into senior roles, and it is a disincentive for working longer hours. Childcare in England is among the most costly in Europe. In the past four years, the average cost of a nursery place has gone up by 23%30, whilst the average full-time wage has increased by 2.5% and the average part-time wage has increased by just 0.3%31.
While parents often complain that childcare is expensive and difficult to access, providers report under-occupancy in some regions and low profits. Childcare providers are overwhelmingly female and this is an area of high female entrepreneurship, so it is important to support providers to enable them to offer and get the best value from their business. We welcome the recent announcements of the Childcare Commission about a new scheme for tax free childcare, but with the Office for National Statistics projecting an additional 150,000 0-4 year olds by 202532, matching provision to requirement will become even more pressing.
Flexible working is an arrangement which gives some degree of flexibility on how long, where and when they work. This can be in terms of working time, working location and pattern of working. The workplace design of fixed locations and fixed hours is dated and no longer reflects our globalised and digitised world. There are clear benefits for business from flexibility, primarily in retaining staff and improving morale; but also, in generating value by better use of the location and premises, size, roles and working patterns of their work forces. The competitive advantage offered by these practices mean they are becoming increasingly widespread, with 77% of women and 70% of men using at least one form of flexible working. In 1998 27% of employers operated flexitime and 16% had home workers; by 2012 these figures had grown to 50% and 54% respectively33.
Source: CIPD (2012) 'Flexible Working Provision and Uptake'
Flexible working is good for the economy. Flexibility increases the performance of people and companies. Among employers that offer flexible working, 76% report that it improves staff retention, 73% report that it improves staff motivation and 72% report that it improves employee engagement34.Go to Eversheds case study
Flexible working is also valued by employees, particularly (but not exclusively) by those who need to balance work and caring responsibilities and to have choices over what best suits their family. The majority of parents work and many of them struggle to balance their work and care needs. This burden usually falls to women, and the provision of flexible working is a major facilitator of their progression and retention in the workplace. It is also good for men, who are also responsible for childcare – or may wish to be, if they could make it compatible with their working lives.
41% of employees say that the availability of flexible working was a key factor in their decision to work for their current employer. But flexible working only succeeds where senior management understands the potential benefits, and there is still a stigma attached to working flexibly, particularly at senior management level, and some SMEs still hold negative views about accommodating flexible working, career breaks and maternity leave in particular.
It is important to note that flexible working is not the same as part-time working. There are many ways to work flexibly, including flexitime, term-time working, job sharing, working from home, arriving early or leaving late.
At the heart of any flexible arrangement is an element of trust. Trust and respect are important to an individual’s well being. The old command and control form of management can cause stress; whereas flexible working allows people to be themselves and makes a major difference to self esteem.
Flexible working is a two-way deal that is better created by a conversation than a set of rules. The right to request flexible working does not mean that employees can demand that their job is changed to suit their lifestyle, but it does mean employers should, if at all possible, encourage their employees to do their job at a time and place that suits them best. We shouldn’t expect employers to create flexible jobs, but we can expect them to be flexible about the way the jobs are done – many bosses ultimately discover that by creating roles to suit individual colleagues, they get the best results for both the business and its workforce.Go to Dell case study
There are of course jobs where some flexible working practices are not suitable. A shop assistant can’t work from home, but Timpson Ltd has found that they can employ a flexible approach in their shoe repair and key cutting stores. Many stores are open seven days a week and operate a shift system. Colleagues covering each store decide amongst themselves what hours they want to work. That gives them the flexibility to find a balance between work, home and leisure.Go to Timpson case study
Society is changing and rigid working patterns don’t fit the way we now live our lives or run our businesses. In recognition of this the Government is extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. These changes will help to challenge the notion that flexible working is special treatment for mothers, and we applaud them. Government has already gone a long way to support flexible working and move the issues away from being one that is focused solely on women, to shared parental responsibilities. There is still more we would encourage the Government and business to do however, to support a culture change that can benefit everybody.
In 20 years’ time very few businesses will have failed to have found the benefits that flexible working will bring. Our job is to make management today wake up to the realities of tomorrow’s world.
Although the majority of parents work, many, especially those on lower incomes, find it difficult to balance their work and care needs. Companies that encourage employees to work the way that suits them best are more likely to attract the most talented new recruits and retain their loyalty. To maximise the contribution of talented employees we must provide an environment that keeps them committed to the workplace. It doesn’t make good business sense to train highly skilled workers only to waste the investment by refusing to be flexible about how they do their work.