gender equality and hybrid working

For the latest edition in our webinar series, we welcomed Sarah Jackson, OBE, to talk about how implementing hybrid working can be done more fairly. You can download the full interview here.

Sarah is a leading authority on work-life issues in the UK and, following 25 years as CEO of work-life charity Working Families, now concentrates on writing, speaking and thinking about gender equality and family-friendly approaches to work. She is currently Visiting Professor at Cranfield University School of Management.

Sarah started by summarising the impact of the pandemic on working women and highlighting that part-time working, which women are more likely to do than men (38% vs 13%) has fallen to its lowest level since 2010.

Overall, the majority of the workforce now want some form of hybrid working and there’s no evidence of that being different between genders. A significant minority - 20 percent - want to work from home permanently, which is a big jump from it being only six percent before the pandemic.

Offering some form of flexible working is going to be important to attract women to open roles. Sarah defines flexible working as being open to some form of variation over WHERE, WHEN and for HOW LONG the work is done. 

At eight minutes into our interview, Sarah identifies three issues that are holding women back from entering, or re-entering, the workforce. One of them - reskilling - is close to our hearts. Women who have been furloughed, taken a career break, or dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic because of caring responsibilities, may need to upskill or reskill to maximise their career opportunities.

Our skilling and career development solutions can help employees quickly and easily identify their skill gaps, source appropriate learning to fill them and be ready to meet the future needs of their organisation.

Sarah reminds us that work is typically built around family-unfriendly hours, and that most of the talk about hybrid working is only about where work is done. We need to broaden the conversation to include when and how long.

Sarah goes on to explain that what she sees as the big difference now, that could really enable fairer and more equitable working arrangements for women, is the mindset shift brought on by the pandemic. Flexible working is no longer seen as a deviation from the norm as it has become the norm - in many workplaces (but not all).

Some recent research from EY revealed that 47 percent of workers would consider quitting if their employer failed to provide some form of post-pandemic flexible working.

At 21 minutes in, Sarah describes the three risks she sees for organisations that are resistant or slow to offer more flexibility. Her recommendation is for organisations to approach flexible working by design - not to be reactive.

Now is the time to invest in new ways of working as all three of the risks identified significantly impact productivity and profitability. Sarah’s advice is for both senior leadership, managers and teams to think about four factors:

  • Roles
  • Types of work
  • Culture
  • Career progression

On career progression, for employees who choose to spend more time working remotely (which is likely to include more women than men),  one area to be mindful of is the danger of being out of sight and out of mind.

If people who are more visible in the office are favoured in some way, that is likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on opportunities to progress for women.

One possible solution to this is the introduction of a talent marketplace platform. An online marketplace is more transparent than a conventional internal jobs board as it usually includes details on projects, short-term assignments and other gigs employees can get involved in. It helps to democratise career progression and minimises the likelihood that only those picking up the watercooler chat or office banter get to hear about upcoming projects.

From 37 minutes into our discussion, Sarah summarises five benefits she sees coming to those organisations and managers that take a proactive approach to hybrid working.

One of the most significant of these, in terms of promoting more equity, is the potential for hybrid working to help reduce the gender pay gap. Where organisations get flexibility right, some of the gender negatives relating to careers, including motherhood, may be mitigated.

In closing, Sarah outlines some important considerations regarding the protocols employers should put in place when implementing flexible working, and she offers some written guidelines on these, which are also available from us when you download the recording.

We finished with a couple of questions on how to get senior leaders to shift their attitude to remote and flexible work, if they are sceptical; whether there’s any evidence of the effect on women’s mental health regarding balancing work and caring responsibilities; and advice for young women entering the workplace and trying to navigate their options with employers.

Sarah was very generous with her insights and advice for any organisation that is in the process of implementing some form of hybrid or flexible working, and we hope you find this webinar useful.

chris perkins.

head of marketing, UK

22 September 2021

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