Workforce | Skills

Workplace flexibility is a business solution, not burden

Workplace flexibility should be seen as a business solution rather than a burden, a CEDA Women in Leadership forum in Sydney has heard.

Caltex Chair, Elizabeth Bryan AM said: "If we know and we accept that a lack of gender diversity is a business problem, then equally we should see flexibility as a business solution."

"We must now reward outcome, not volume of hours worked or when or where those hours are worked," she said.

Ms Bryan said the corporate work model that demands constant availability and geographic mobility is a significant obstacle to women winning corporate leadership roles.

"Flexibility needs to be the norm, not the exception for it to make a difference for women," she said.

"We need to recognise that enabling a flexible work culture not only benefits all employees but is critical in enabling women to move through and reach the top management levels where they still remain far outnumbered."

Ms Bryan said the current corporate structure is outdated and does not reflect our current society and the way it needs to operate.

In order to achieve diversity we need to change the rules and traditions of our organisation to fit the new world, she said.

UN Association of Australia Executive Director, Elizabeth Shaw said rather than being viewed as a lever for productivity, workplace flexibly is still perceived as existing only to accommodate working mothers.

"It's that narrative and perception that is the greatest inhibitor to flexibility moving from a trendy topic to a lived reality," she said.

"Framing flexibility as a women's issue is not only flawed, but it's damaging because it reinforces the insidious notion that only women and mothers need flexibility and that everyone else is fine with the status quo.

"Just like we need to frame workplace flexibility as a commercial imperative, in order to overcome resistance, we need to ensure that workplace flexibility is part of a company's strategic plan.

"Then it's not only seen as an essential lever in terms of delivering value for the company, but it's likely to be benchmarked and measured with accountability around delivering on promise."

Ms Shaw said if more men challenge attitudes by accessing flexible work, the more likely it is to be mainstreamed.

However, organisations need to foster an environment where employees feel comfortable accessing workplace flexibility, she said.

"While there's widespread discussion of workplace flexibility available in organisations across Australia, the implementation and the ability to access flexible work without fear or career reprisals is a significant barrier to both women and men."

View upcoming events in our Women in Leadership Series.