Workplace flexibility: Time to walk the talk
Posted : Friday, October 26, 2012
Business leaders and board members have to "walk the talk" to
make their workplaces more flexible and to retain a broad range of
staff in an era of labour force shortages, a CEDA forum in Adelaide
Speakers from public and private enterprises told the forum on
Growing Workforce Participation that having the senior
executive team work flexibly had sent a strong signal through their
organisations and many of the reasons formerly given for not
promoting part time people now seemed like "poor excuses".
The forum also heard that businesses needed to focus on the
outcomes they need and how to reorganise working arrangements to
achieve them. The panel of business leaders said:
- SA's female labour force participation remained 2.5 per cent
lower than other states and its total participation rate had fallen
0.1 per cent in the September quarter to 62.5 per cent.
- While Australia's female workforce participation increased from
40 per cent to 59 per cent between 1966 and 2003, almost half the
number of women with children under five are not in the labour
force, and almost a quarter of women with children between 6-14 do
- SA needs to harness the large pool of around 150,000
underemployed and unemployed workers to maximise its economic and
- Policy makers and business leaders should focus on programs to
improve work readiness for the long term unemployed and to change
workplace culture to include workers from diverse backgrounds.
- Businesses must start with a diversity plan linked to
performance payments to ensure managers were committed to
increasing workforce diversity. This plan should aim to remove
hidden biases against groups such as women, older workers and
people with English as a second language.
- Diversity measures could include leave purchasing arrangements,
family leave, re-organising work structures, work from home
arrangements and adequately rewarding part time and older
BAE Systems, Director, Corporate Affairs and Defence Logistics,
Christine Zeitz said managers needed to take a risk and see past
impediments to give part time workers big responsibilities. It was
easy to find good reasons not to promote women or part time workers
to senior roles or reasons why workplace flexibility was impossible
but these were often merely poor excuses, she said.
Equally women needed to question whether they were making poor
excuses not to take on challenging roles, she said.
In moving the culture of the workforce to a more flexible
workplace since 2009, BAE's management board and top 100 staff made
a commitment to working flexibly and this was linked to
"That was a fundamental change in our culture," and while most
senior executives had originally said they were unable to work
flexibly due to their workload, a significant proportion now worked
flexibly still doing the same amount of work, she said.
"For those today who are managers and owners of businesses, and
who want to increase the level of females in senior leadership
roles in their business, I think you need to seek them out and give
them a challenge, take a risk," she said.
"Women hesitate more than men in putting themselves forward for
In a bid to attract workers in a labour market where most of the
young men are seduced by high mining sector incomes, WA
WaterCorporation had swapped its male-based workforce for "women
with prams," offering leave purchase and work from home
arrangements, WA WaterCorporation CEO, Sue Murphy said.
But while many of these measures had targeted women, younger men
with families and older men had also taken up the chance to work
flexibly, she said.
By focusing on outcomes rather than job titles, the corporation
had been able to employ local Aboriginal workers in remote parts of
WA rather than importing them from Perth at great expense, she
"We had the radical idea of instead of moving people to the
remote communities, why don't we actually employ the people who
already live there? It doesn't sound like rocket science but
somehow it took about 100 years to think of this plan," she
As well as being a tool for attracting and retaining workers,
increasing workforce diversity had helped the WA WaterCorporation
to engage with its customers - trying to influence consumer's
choices about which plants to have and which button to press on the
toilet, Ms Murphy said.
"(Flexible work practices) are the cheap way of winning the
hearts and minds of the people and if you are not doing it, you are
an idiot," she said.
The panel said South Australia's prosperity depended on policies
to improve workforce participation of the long term unemployed,
women, immigrants and people with a disability.
"We need to be making sure that all South Australians are
engaged and benefiting from the new economy because it is the
people of South Australia, not our resources, who are the key to
our future success, and much more attention needs to be paid to the
human factor," Economic Development, Board Chair, Raymond Spencer
"Leaders (are important), both male and female, who understand
that workers' needs change through their working life cycle and
that retaining experienced, productive workers depends on policy
adaption in our workplaces," he said.
"Frankly, it is important to have managers and leaders who walk
the talk, making sure that workers, including managers, get access
flexibility without penalty.
"There is no place for discrimination of any kind in the
21st century and it is counterproductive to maximising
the promise of this state. Equal pay for equal work is not a
cutting edge standard - it's a moral given."
"And we men must take the lead in modelling behaviour that
demonstrates equality of all within our organisations."
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