How good flexible work programs can retain working women

p 1 flexible work programs can help retain working women if designed thoughtful

We face a gender equality disaster. The numbers have made for a gradual string of headlines lately: We hit a 33-year low in women’s labor participation in January, and nearly 3 million women have dropped out of the workforce in comparison with a yr in the past. Since February 2020, women have lost a net of 5.4 million jobs, accounting for 55% of internet job loss within the U.S. throughout this disaster, regardless of making up barely lower than half of the workforce. On a internet foundation, all 140,000 jobs misplaced in December 2020 within the U.S. belonged to women, and a pair of.2 million women have left the workforce solely. Particularly impacted are women of shade, who comprise a large portion of the workforce in industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, together with hospitality, training, and retail.

Within the short-term, unpaid payments are piling up and pushing many women into poverty; within the long-term, monetary hardship is hampering women’s wealth accumulation, stalling progress on financial freedom, which in flip will influence financial development. On the enterprise facet, diminished gender range will hurt organizations’ backside traces. McKinsey research has repeatedly proven the hyperlink between low gender range and underperformance.

Reversing this troubling development and persevering with to construct women’s contribution to the workforce should start with organizations redoubling their efforts to diversify their very own workforces. One key technique employers can use to take action is increase entry to flexible work. Flexible work choices can assist staff scuffling with home labor, no matter gender. Broad entry to those working preparations can encourage households to extra equally distribute the burden of home work, and in the end relieve women, who’re at the moment extra prone to drop out of the workforce as a result of household obligations.

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The main points matter although, and a poorly designed flexible work program can reinforce some persistent disadvantages for women within the workforce. On the similar time, employers should provide flexible work or danger a extreme expertise drain. Analysis we’ve finished at Mercer in partnership with AECOM confirmed that 56% of workers would attempt to swap jobs if their employers don’t retain flexible work after the pandemic. To keep away from both of these dire outcomes, organizations should fastidiously think about the potential pitfalls of flexible work, and construct cultures and insurance policies that make these new working preparations profitable.

Flexible work can create a degree enjoying area for individuals who carry higher care obligations at residence. However in observe, managers have a historical past of valuing work finished within the workplace extra extremely than distant work. Our research has proven that earlier than the pandemic, about 44% of managers felt this manner about distant work. It’s very seemingly that with the expertise of the pandemic, extra managers acknowledge the total worth of distant work. However organizations should deal with the priority that women who select to work remotely at the very least a part of the time may even see their careers undergo because of this—and forestall that consequence. 

Organizations searching for to increase their flexible work choices with out disadvantaging women of their workforces ought to observe three broad methods to keep away from potential pitfalls:

Keep alternatives for engagement

Extra women working outdoors of the workplace at the very least part-time might deprive them of a key asset for profession constructing: office connections and mentorships. If managers and leaders aren’t in a position to present sources for people whereas they’re working from residence, it should additional erode alternatives for these teams.

Employers can discover methods to make sure that flexible work doesn’t result in diminished alternatives to make lasting connections and interact with mentors. In spite of everything, inner connectivity has usually not suffered throughout the pandemic: More than 80% of organizations have reported that their engagement degree is at the very least in step with what they skilled earlier than the pandemic.

Supporting these with flexible work preparations would require carrying ahead a few of the practices that helped employers preserve engagement over the previous yr. This contains digital social occasions for each distant and on-site staff, and mentorship programs that cross the flexible work/workplace work line.

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Guarantee distant work is acknowledged

Organizations that improve their flexible work choices have to foster a mindset shift amongst managers in relation to the worth of distant work. HR leaders can educate managers on the details about distant work productiveness, drawing on the pandemic as a lesson, together with that 90% of employers have discovered that productiveness has both stayed the identical or elevated between March and October 2020.   

Employers ought to strongly encourage managers to carve out facetime with distant staff to make sure that distant work is productive and aligned, however managers ought to mannequin new flexible work practices as nicely to keep away from implicitly signaling a bias towards in-office work. 

Organizations additionally want to contemplate redesigning efficiency and profession administration processes to make sure that any such bias doesn’t influence flexible staff, and proceed monitoring and evaluating outcomes between flexible staff and full-time workplace staff. This requires adopting processes that rely extra on outcomes and fewer on remark. For some positions, metrics that permit for quantifiable efficiency evaluate exist already, like buyer satisfaction scores for customer support jobs. For others, managers have to create and actively handle targets that staff can be measured towards. As soon as a standardized course of is in place, managers can examine outcomes and extra objectively measure the efficiency of flexible staff.

Be open to totally different sorts of flexibility

In fact, whereas distant work and flexible work have each gained higher acceptance over the previous yr, not all segments of the workforce take pleasure in the identical entry to this flexibility. Roles like frontline work, and sectors corresponding to healthcare, don’t allow a lot—if any—flexibility on the place and when staff can carry out their jobs. As a few of these roles and sectors disproportionately make use of women, higher economy-wide flexibility for many who can work from residence might really improve gender inequality.

Whereas it’s true that not each employer can provide distant work, all can enhance their flexibility. Employers can provide flexibility in when their staff work, how they work, and what work they do. Organizations have to determine what alternatives exist in their very own office, and what model of flexibility gives probably the most assist to their staff.

In 2019, women’s labor participation price was just shy of an all-time high. Women had made significant progress in share of managerial roles. Women’s poverty rates were falling. To return to that development and draw women again into the workforce, retain expertise that’s demanding extra choices within the office, and increase company efficiency by way of gender range, organizations should embrace the numerous classes of flexible work that we now have discovered over the course of the pandemic. 


Martine Ferland is the president and CEO of Mercer, the world’s largest agency consulting on points referring to workforce, retirement, and worker well being.