Stories about flexibility at work
This collection of stories highlights flexible workplace initiatives that are bringing benefits to individuals and organisations.
Flex Able certification: are organisations walking the talk on flexibility?
Flexible work options contribute to good work-life balance and mental health, and wellbeing. Many businesses claim to provide flexibility at work, but is it all talk? A Flex Able Certification process is now available to assess the extent to which an organisation is actually providing a flexible work environment that will attract and retain a broad and diverse workforce.
Why is flexibility important at work?
Flexibility at work is important for a number of reasons: it helps address the gender pay gap (by enabling women to maintain and progress their careers); it supports people who have family responsibilities; and it allows people to pursue interests outside of work.
But importantly, flexibility at work helps reduce the stress caused by the many demands placed on people in their work and private lives. Flexible work options assist people to manage full-time work where there are also family responsibilities or study commitments. Employees who know that their organisation will assist them when they need some flexibility are more likely to maintain their mental health.
What is Flex Able Certification?
Flex Able Certification involves an audit of an organisation's policies and initiatives to determine what they are doing to provide flexibility options for employees and job seekers. While many
organisations say they
, the audit reveals whether they
walk the talk
One criteria for certification is that the organisation trusts their employees to deliver the work, no matter where they work from. Flex Able certification tells job
applicants and employees that the organisation provides a truly flexible work environment, and that they can be confident about negotiating flexible work arrangements with them.
What does the Flex Able audit look at?
The starting point for the audit is the attitude at the top of the organisation. Support by the CEO for flexibility policies and initiatives needs to be strong, if they are to be meaningfully implemented.
The audit looks at what sort of flexible options are available: part-time or full-time work with flexibility, or job-sharing; and when, where, and how a person engages with and completes their work. The audit also reviews the organisation's website and annual reports to determine what the organisation says they're doing, and to what extent they are actually doingit.
Specifically the audit looks for evidence in the organisation of:
- aspirations to implement flexibility initiatives;
- existing support for implementation of flexibility initiatives;
- effective communication to staff about flexibility initiatives and options available to them;
- training for all levels of management on how to make flexibility work for everyone;
- specific examples of employees who are accessing flexible work options, and how the organisation worked to assist them; and
- employee satisfaction (measured through surveys) that they have the flexibility they need to manage work and life commitments.
What size organisations get certified?
All kinds and sizes of organisations achieve certification, and the process is tailored with their size in mind. For larger organisations, evidence of flexibility initiatives and procedures should be formalised. For small businesses that often don't have HR positions, the process is to work with the employer to assess if the business has a positive attitude towards flexibility, and whether it is reflected throughout the business. While a small business may not have policies, if they show evidence of a real willingness to consider a range of flexible work options for staff because they value them, they should be able to achieve certification.
Small business examples
In one small business that achieved certification, each of its six employees worked different hours and times, according to their needs. As a result, they were highly committed to their work, and the business was successful.
Another small business rewrote a job advertisement as a flexible, three days a week position after they couldn't find the right person when it was advertised as a full-time position. The employer was amazed at how many quality candidates applied, once the job was flexible and part-time.
Flex Able tips for employers
- Many workers want flexible work options, so organisations need to adjust their practices, if they want to access the best talent.
- Flexibility is not about casualisation. People want part or full-time work with flexibility, and all the rights and conditions that come with regular full-time work.
- Most people see flexibility as a privilege, and take responsibility for their work outcomes.
- Flexible options include: job-sharing, flexible start or finish times, working away from the office using technology, and a compressed work week. In each case, the focus should be on the outcomes, rather than the hours.
- Managers need to trust staff to come up with the right flexibility solutions to suit their needs, and deliver the work.
- If an organisation tries to prescribe how flexibility will work, it's not flexibility.
- Good managers know if a worker is delivering, whether they are sitting at their desk full-time or working from elsewhere.
- Offering flexible work options is unlikely to spiral out of control; many employees still prefer a regular nine to five work day.
Where to find out more about workplace flexibility
- Diverse City Careers administers Flex Able certification
- Queensland Government Flexible working arrangements
- Australian Government Flexible working arrangements
Jobs Shared: providing job-share solutions for workers and business
Job-sharing is one example of a flexible work arrangement that employers can use to attract and keep talented staff, and maintain business efficiency.
Simone, from Jobs Shared, believes that job-share arrangements benefit employers and employees equally, and has set up a business to pair up job-share candidates, as well as advising business on how to make job-share work for them.
Why is job-sharing important?
Simone became passionate about job-sharing after the birth of her first child. She loved working in advertising and her work was highly regarded, so she didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to return to work part-time. When it came time for her to return to work, her employer's response was
When she finally found a part-time job, she was given too much work to complete in her allocated hours, which was stressful for her. Simone heard similar stories from other mums, some of whom were also forced to take lower paid jobs to get part-time work. She learnt that people in part-time jobs were often seen to be less productive than full-time employees, and realised that job-sharing a full-time role could resolve this.
The idea of a job-share meeting place
While Simone wanted to try a job-share, she didn't know where to start looking. The idea of a job-share meeting place was born, and after researching stories about gender equality she decided to do something about it.
In May 2015, the Jobs Shared website was launched, with the goal to make flexible working hours the norm through job-sharing. This would allow more people to enjoy a better work/life balance while still holding a high level position. It was also time to educate companies on the benefits of job-sharing.
How does Jobs Shared work?
For job seekers, Jobs Shared offers a free virtual meeting place to help them find the right person with complementary skills and similar experience for a job-share partnership. It provides tips on finding the right partner to make the arrangement work, and arranges industry-specific
For businesses, Jobs Shared maintains a Jobs Board that advertises available job-share positions and gives tips on successful job-sharing. It also runs a consulting service that covers practical aspects of creating job-share opportunities, managing job share teams, and using the specialist software developed by Jobs Shared for internal job-share registers.
Who can job-share?
Job-share arrangements are not only for women returning to the workforce after maternity or parental leave. As shared parenting has become more common, many men also look for flexible work options. Employees transitioning to retirement may also opt for part-time arrangements, and some people just want a break from full-time work to study, or have time with family, or for interests such as sport. Simone wants to help these people go to employers with the solution, rather than a problem.
Benefits to organisations
If employees can’t negotiate flexible work they often look for work elsewhere. Simone says that people preparing for retirement often leave a job and take such a wealth of knowledge and experience with them that companies end up rehiring them as contractors. Job-sharing is a great way to retain older workers, as they pass their knowledge and experience on to new employees.
Job-sharing benefits organisations in other ways too:
- Urgent work need not go unattended if one person in the job-share partnership is on holiday or on sick leave.
- Two ‘brains’ in one job-shared role has the potential for creative diversity and innovation.
- Burn out is reduced when workers enjoy genuine time off, knowing someone is taking care of the work.
- Mentoring, succession planning, and smooth job transitions are easy to arrange.
- People work much more efficiently if they want to work part-time and are enabled to.
- Access to a largely untapped pool of talented people is possible.
What are the challenges?
Many organisations have tried job-sharing, but have had bad experiences. Simone believes that managers need to learn how to set up, manage, and support job-share teams. They need to give teams time to find their rhythm, know how to split the role appropriately, and make sure that other employees don’t play them off against each other. Ideally, there should be handover time, even though it means the role equals a bit more than one full-time position. Simone says that managers often feel they are getting 150% work for 120% time, once they try it.
For employees, the challenge is to find the right job-share partner who will complement them, rather than compete against them. Job-share partners need to communicate well with each other in order to: prioritise work, discuss issues that affect their work (personal matters and office politics), and to ensure that information from meetings and emails is shared.
Where to find out more about job-sharing
- Queensland Government Flexible working arrangements - Job sharing
- Women Lawyers Association of New South Wales, The power of two: job-share resource guide
Diverse City Careers: serious about supporting women’s careers
Diverse City Careers operates Australia’s only online jobs’ board that selects companies to work with based on their commitment to support women’s careers. The personal experiences of the company’s founders of the difficulties that women face in pursuing careers, especially in industries traditionally seen as male-dominated, prompted them to set up the business, where women can find jobs with employers of choice for women.
Need for employers of choice for women
Diverse City Careers (DCC) was founded by Gemma Lloyd and Valeria Ignatieva to promote companies that support women’s careers and promoting flexible workplace practices, particularly in sectors with high gender inequality rates, such as IT.
On the DCC online jobs’ board, there is no place for companies with poor internal supports for women, no leadership programs, inadequate parental leave policies, and outdated management practices. DCC will only advertise jobs from companies that it has judged, through a rigorous qualification process, to have genuine initiatives in place to support women, such as leadership mentoring programs, good parental leave, flexibility, and an overall environment where women can thrive.
DCC is in a position to influence positive change in the jobs market because many of the companies they have rejected are now proactively working towards meeting DCC criteria to be reassessed as employers who genuinely support women’s careers.
Gemma and Valeria both worked in IT for some years, and have personally experienced the challenges women working in IT regularly face. In her first two jobs in IT, Gemma worked in ‘boys club’ environments where she was expected to make the tea and take notes in meetings, despite being as qualified as her male counterparts, or often she’d meet with clients who assumed she was the IT professional’s assistant. Happily though, through volunteering with Females in IT and Telecommunications (FITT), Gemma and Valeria discovered IT companies that were refreshingly different. These companies realised that their business was more successful when there was a healthy balance of women and men in the workforce, and in leadership roles.
Enter Diverse City Careers
The question was how to connect women with the types of companies that would actively encourage and support them in their careers.
DCC was born because Gemma and Valeria realised that the existing job market for industries such as IT was permeated with masculine language, and images of all-male workplaces that discouraged women from even applying for jobs. And when women did apply for, or get jobs, they often faced bias which further discouraged them. A major obstacle was that women were not able to assess the culture of a company before applying for a job there.
Identifying supportive companies
DCC developed criteria for identifying supportive employers, which it now uses in its qualification process for companies to advertise on the online jobs’ board. Not only do companies that advertise on the jobs’ board have to qualify, but their ads must also be designed to attract women by focusing on: potential, transferable, skills (rather than years of experience); images of women in their workplaces; and gender-neutral language. Employers are also encouraged to share stories on the DCC website of their creative gender diversity initiatives to support women in their workplaces.
Advice for employers
Diverse City Careers suggest the following strategies for employers who want to tap into a more diverse talent pool:
- Focus on outcomes rather than time spent in the office to enable more inclusive and happy workplaces.
- Empower people to make decisions within their area of expertise, and give them opportunities to learn and to reach their full potential.
- Offer mentoring and leadership programs for women, equal pay, parent-friendly policies and leave, and other supports.
- Flexibility is important; so always consider if a role can be offered as flexible, and actively encourage flexible work patterns.
- Consider hiring people for their potential, rather than their years of experience.
- Promote the business benefits of diversity.
- Use gender-neutral language to advertise.
Where to find out more about supporting women in the workplace
- Workplace Gender Equality Agency
- Diverse City Careers
- Australian Human Rights Commission, Sex discrimination web page
AECOM: changing the culture to normalise flexibility
AECOM is a global engineering design, construction, and management company, as well as a leader in the field of flexible workplace practices and workplace gender diversity. In 2015, AECOM’s Australian business was recognised as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality by the Workplace Gender Equity Agency (WGEA). AECOM’s first female chief executive, Lara Poloni, is committed to creating fully flexible roles at all levels of the organisation.
Flexibility matters to staff
In 2015, AECOM asked 1500 staff if they would prefer a shorter work fortnight, or a pay rise. The result was resoundingly in favour of flexibility, with 94% of participants saying that flexible work is the future. The link between job satisfaction and overall engagement in work has been well established, and flexibility is a major contributor to job satisfaction.
Need for a culture change
Although AECOM had flexible work arrangements available, most staff thought they were only for people with parental responsibilities.
The first step was to advertise all new roles as flexible. Many managers had not nominated roles to be flexible, so AECOM flipped the process, and required managers to put forward a business case showing why a role couldn’t be flexible. In this way, managers often realised they couldn’t explain why a role shouldn’t be flexible.
AECOM developed a Flexibility Works toolkit for staff, which helped managers make flexibility work, and encouraged employees to access flexible work within guiding principles, which were:
- If it works for you, for your team, and your clients, it works for us.
- Internal and external client service remains the priority.
- Performance is defined by output and behaviour, not where and when the work is being undertaken.
The guidelines stressed that, in busy periods, all staff are expected to be flexible in order to complete their work.
Standard working hours abolished
Standard start and finishing times were abolished and individuals now negotiate arrangements that satisfy their needs, as well as the needs of the business with their managers. Some staff are now able to exercise before or after work, avoid peak hour traffic, and do school drop-offs and pick-ups. Informal arrangements are made without the need for paperwork, and without affecting the individual’s full-time status. To normalise flexible work, AECOM asked managers to be role models. If they started work late to go surfing or meet a friend for breakfast, they were asked to talk about it.
The mandatory one hour lunch break was shortened to a half-hour break, as most staff only took half an hour anyway. Over Christmas, when AECOM closes for two weeks, staff are required to take leave. In addition to their standard four-week leave entitlement, staff may purchase additional leave to be taken at times that suit them.
Mobilising work through technology
AECOM introduced the Be Anywhere Work concept so that staff could work from anywhere using lightweight laptops supplied by the company. Planning was necessary to manage the extra expense of all new technology, and an agreement was negotiated to supply laptops to replace computers as they become redundant.
AECOM are investigating a virtual desktop which will enable staff to access their desktop from any device, so that they could work anywhere, anytime. Managers are asked to focus on deliverables and outcomes, rather than the hours people are at their desks.
Benefits for staff
AECOM has found that staff are more engaged in their work when they are given flexibility, and don't feel bad about leaving early or coming in late. This reduces stress, and helps balance work with life interests, or family responsibilities. AECOM also believes that in saying ‘flexibility works’, it is giving a clear message to staff that it trusts them as competent professionals.
Two AECOM stories
Not a morning person
Susan Farr, Director, Brilliant Cities is not a morning person and enjoys walking her dog to get some exercise before heading into work late morning and finishing later than traditional work hours. This also enables her to miss the peak hour which makes for a shorter commute
Karsten Forsterling, Principal Structural Engineer and Olympic rowing silver medalist, said: ‘Flexible work arrangements helped me forge my career as a bridge engineer while preparing for the Rio Olympic Games.’ While training for the Olympics, he reduced his work to a thirty-hour week, and says that the experience has benefitted his career and his client relationships. At a family level, Karsten said that ‘Flexibility also helped when my wife returned to work and we shared the care of our kids’.
Benefits for AECOM
AECOM sees a direct link between flexibility and quality outcomes and deliverables. Staff now feel responsible for the quality of their work, rather than the hours they put in at the office. The company attracts and retains top talent, and job satisfaction has improved. Enabling flexibility has increased workforce diversity, with positive impacts on leadership, teams, and the business. An added bonus was in dollar savings; time-consuming paperwork for formal applications to change start or finishing times was done away with, and there were savings in office refits because less fixed desks were needed.
The new flexible workplace regime put more responsibility on company leaders. To help leaders manage a flexible, diverse, workforce, AECOM invested heavily with the Centre for Ethical Leadership to develop an Inclusive Leadership Development Program. A significant part of the program related to unconscious bias training to dispel unrealistic fears about flexibility. Managers who were working flexibly were encouraged to train other managers, and to use real stories from their own teams to help them see how they can make it work.
The challenge, however, remains: to make the cultural shift from ‘flexibility is for people with parental responsibilities’ to ‘flexibility is for everyone and is good for business’.
Advice for other employers
- Get managers to lead by example to shift culture and encourage staff to talk about flexibility needs.
- Simplify the process by making it as informal as possible.
- Put good guidelines in place to ensure business needs and external/internal client service are prioritised.
- Have a clear message from the Chief Executive that ‘We are doing it, and here are the parameters to make it work.’
Where to find out more about workplace flexibility
- Centre for Ethical Leadership
- Queensland Government, Unconscious biases
- Queensland Government, Flexible work arrangements
Commonwealth Bank: flexibility works for customers and staff
Consumers of banking products are firmly in the digital arena, and banks have adjusted their products and services (as well as how and when they are offered) for customer convenience. Running parallel to this are the needs of workers for flexible work at various stages of their careers.
The Commonwealth Bank sees flexibility as a key to customer satisfaction and business competitiveness, as well as to attracting and retaining a productive, motivated and talented workforce. The Bank offers ‘reason-neutral’ flex options for workers, and has been rewarded with greater productivity, less absenteeism and more engagement from workers who access flexible work arrangements.
Changing work needs
The Commonwealth Bank recognises that the work environment is changing, and that it needed to build flexibility into the organisation and culture to be competitive. By providing a supportive and flexible work environment, the Bank aims to be an employer of choice for workers in the industry, and to provide customer convenience.
However, the Commonwealth Bank quickly realised that no two employees are the same, and neither are their needs for flexibility. Most people will require some form of flexible work arrangement during their working lives — to care for children or family, to pursue sports or study, to accommodate an impairment, to transition to retirement, to manage commuting, to observe religious or cultural practices, and many other life circumstances. For this reason, the Bank made its flex policy ‘reason-neutral’, so that no one reason for requesting flexible arrangements is more or less legitimate than any other.
The flex options available to workers include: reduced hours (including part-time work), job-share arrangements, remote working (from home and from other Commonwealth Bank locations), flexible hours and career breaks. These arrangements can be either formal or informal.
Trust rewarded with productivity
Initially, there was some concern about trusting workers to deliver outcomes when they were not physically in attendance at the workplace. However, the excellent results achieved by workers have shifted the focus for managers from concern about physical attendance of staff to concentration on their output. Sarah Abbott, Senior Manager, Group Diversity and Inclusion, at Commonwealth Bank says:
“The work that employees are able to produce from home is impressive! Managers often say that they know they can rely on a deliverable to be completed on the “at home day” because they tend to be such productive days for staff due to fewer meetings and distractions.”
As a very large organisation, the Commonwealth Bank was determined that all managers should adopt a consistent approach to managing flexible work arrangements, and that access to flexible options was available at all levels of the organisation. In response, the Diversity and Inclusion team developed tools and resources for managers so that all workers would have the same experience, regardless of their manager.
Benefits to the bank
The Commonwealth Bank has identified the following benefits directly as a result of its flexible work practices:
- retention rate of staff improved;
- capacity to adapt to customer needs outside of usual business hours;
- ability to adapt to business demands;
- reputation as an employer of choice;
- productivity improved;
- engagement score on the staff survey was higher for staff who work flexibly;
- talent pool widened; and
- absenteeism decreased.
Personal story: Geza, Assessment Manager
Geza is an Assessment Manager at the Commonwealth Bank with a role in Wealth Management that does not rely on set hours. This means that he can manage his workload around other commitments and change his start or finishing times as needed. He says:
“Having the ability to work flexibly since 2005 is a major reason I pursued the employment opportunity with the Commonwealth Bank. It has enabled my wife and I to maintain our careers while looking after three young and very active boys. Along the way, I have changed my part-time working days to accommodate my wife's changing work situation, and it has enabled us to share those home duties.”
With careful planning, Geza is involved in this phase of his young family's life, and it allows him and his wife to have active careers. The trust of his managers is important to Geza, and he advises anyone wanting to explore a flexible work arrangement to be sure they are:
- good communicators;
- able to look ahead, plan and forecast; and
- able to be flexible in their flex arrangements, using a ‘give and take’ approach.
Advice to other organisations
The Commonwealth Bank’s message to other organisations is to ensure that the flexibility options you offer are sustainable for your business. The next step is to promote the changes across all levels of the organisation, and showcase the many ways that staff are working flexibly.
To manage implementation and expectations, the Bank produced tools and resources to assist managers and workers, including:
- a job re-design tool to start the conversation around what is entailed in role and how individual requirements can be supported;
- a communication pack for leaders and managers to share insights and processes easily and effectively with their teams;
- a training program for HR practitioners to support them in implementing and managing flex; and
- online and hard copy self-help manuals for managers and employees to quickly and easily understand the approach to flex and how to start the conversation.
Where to get more information on flexibility at work
- Australian Human Rights Commission, Flexible work arrangements
- Queensland Government, Flexible work arrangements
IF Solutions - Flexibility is about keeping good people in the business.
“I didn’t plan for flexibility, but it became clear that that was the best path to take. I had to make a decision to be flexible to keep those people in the business” Grant Chapman, Principal, Integrated Finance Solutions
What makes IF Solutions a flexible workplace?
IF Solutions is a boutique financial advice firm. All six people in my team, including two contractors, are on some sort of flexible work arrangement, ranging from 2 to 4 days a week. The time off they need varies with their personal circumstances. They all happen to be female and two have had babies whilst working here, including our Self-Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSF) Senior Accountant. They’ve taken anything from 3 to 12 months time off to have a baby, and we’ve been able to offer them their roles back and give them hours that suited them and their family needs.
Did you plan to build a flexible workplace?
I didn't plan for it, but it became clear it was the best path to take. Initially I employed full-time professionals with financial services degrees or qualified accountants, who were able to give quality financial service and advice. They all happened to be women. When one became pregnant I realised I had to make sure we were flexible enough to bring them back after they had their babies, and keep them in the business. So I’ve ended up with all of my staff on flexible, part-time varying hours.
Why was it important to keep them in the business?
It is a big disruption to lose a quality person and have to re-employ and train someone again. So I had to think about how, if staff have a child and return to work, I can put them back in the same role and give them the same benefits they had before, without disadvantaging them.
What are the benefits to business?
We are able to retain key, quality people. I think it works the same for a man wanting to spend six months with his newborn and establish that part of his life, then return to work. That’s more and more common, and a business needs to be positioned for that.
We also attract quality people if we are flexible. We recruited for an SMSF accountant/administrator role, deliberately advertising it as flexible. We made it clear that we would make the role work for the right person and we got some really high quality candidates as a result. There are people looking for that in a workplace.
We end up with really committed staff. I find that people who start a family and come back to work, know clearly what they are doing with their life, and are focussed on what they have to do at work. They deliver really good outcomes in the time that they work.
What are the benefits to your staff?
They know that we get good outcomes, and that they get flexibility and support from me in return. They know I’ve got their best interests at heart, and I will back them up. If they need to go to the doctor or a school meeting, or take professional study time or whatever else might come up, they know I fully embrace and support that and will help them do it. It’s important to them.
The result is that we have a good work environment. People feel empowered and embraced. They come to work knowing it's a good place to work, and they get a sense of satisfaction that they’re achieving what they want to achieve in life.
What are the challenges in providing a flexible workplace?
It’s important that even small businesses have policies in place and that employees are aware of them. If no-one reads them, they don’t really know what it means. The wording needs to suit our business, and we have to review and update. Implementation is a challenge as I’m business owner, HR manager, IT specialist, marketing manager, professional advisor and accountant.
We've had to set up our office with desks to suit different people coming in on different days. Computer technology needs to allow various users to login, access all business material and maintain work confidentiality. But we still need to give people a sense of belonging. We don’t want them to feel they don't have somewhere to sit, or they can’t put things on a desk if someone else has. We structure the workplace with that in mind to make it more pleasant so people feel they belong. They all work part-time, and they’re committed and empowered, so they help each other work things out.
Another challenge when employing people flexibly is the offer we make; are they a permanent part-time employee, casual or a contractor? The ATO is very specific about who is a contractor or who is an employee entitled to superannuation, sick leave, long service, etc. If we give them a workspace and they need our computers and infrastructure to do the job, they are an employee. It’s important to get the right employment agreements in place and not create issues. Employment laws change, and a small business has to spend on lawyers and HR specialists to get it right so staff know exactly where they stand.
In terms of culture in the organisation, it’s both a benefit and a challenge that people come in and out. I need to make sure we keep a positive culture and environment, allowing for different views and different ways people operate. I’m constantly learning and making mistakes, but I think that if I’m not, there is something wrong.
What advice can you give to other employers?
The leadership team in any organisation, really needs to be willing to be flexible and to embrace change. If they bring in flexible practices, that flexible thinking will flow into the business itself. I didn’t realise it in the beginning, but that is what has happened.
- Make your business flexible to embrace a flexible outcome for your people. Be willing to embrace change with that.
- Have your employment contracts really clear, and know what roles you are filling.
- Embrace what other people want and take the time to understand what is important to them, and help them get it.
- Beyond that, have fun!
The Yield – Managing Team Gender Diversity for Better Business Outcomes
Team gender diversity in particular is critical to our business outcomes.
We strongly believe in team diversity in general, but especially gender diversity because a gender balanced workforce will get us better outcomes. And it’s important that the salaries are equal whether male or female.
Why is gender diversity important?
The Yield is an agricultural technology start up in Tasmania. Ros Harvey is Managing director and has had a career with the World Bank and the UN working on better work conditions for women around the world. She and Chief Operation Officer Phil Randal are absolutely committed to gender diversity in the workplace because they believe that there’s a real value to the diversity of thinking that women can bring to the workplace, especially in technology.
Achieving a good gender balance.
Phil says that the Yield’s current workforce is 65% female. They were attracted to Diverse City Careers’ (DCC) business model and service which not only helped them recruit highly qualified women to the team, but also to think carefully about how they support and encourage gender diversity. As Phil says, DCC’s audit process is to make sure that any company advertising jobs on the DCC jobs board is “fair dinkum” about gender diversity in the workplace.
Other practical strategies or initiatives
Another strategy that the Yield used to attract quality female candidates was to work on removing unconscious bias from their job descriptions and advertisements. From the outset they were committed to doing it properly and sought help from an academic expert in the field to identify the kind of traditional corporate language that often discourages women from applying for jobs. Language such as ‘team player’ or ‘expert in’ may seem quite harmless, but research has shown that women don’t respond well to it. On the other hand, it shows that they tend to respond better to language like ‘contribute to team work’, or ‘help build a cohesive team’, or ‘has the ability to acquire the skills to…’
Flexibility is also a consideration
Phil says that on the whole, from a team interaction perspective, they prefer for people to be in the office most of the time. Having said that, if people need to be at home they can work from home, or sometimes, they bring home to work. An example is a staff member who often brings her dog to work. Initially her fence needed repairing so she brought him in, and since then he often comes to work with her simply because she enjoys having him around. Another example is a staff member who has a particularly complex personal situation at the moment, so he does a lot of work from home.
The Yield wants to break down the barriers between home and work so that people can feel comfortable and be able to do a good job. They have seen in other organisations how people are often apologetic about having personal issues that sometimes take priority over work, and firmly believe that this should not happen. They feel that work should not get in the way, whether it’s a doctor’s appointment or taking the kids to school, or whatever other personal responsibilities a staff member may have.
How do you manage this approach?
“Managing employees is always a challenge. We work well as a team because we break down priorities by quarter and share them across the whole team. In this way everyone knows what outcomes we are aiming for and they can all focus on that. We pride ourselves on being an outcomes driven organisation, and as long as people are focussed on getting the results we need, we trust them to make sure that their work is organised so that still happen.”
Technology is important. We chose a platform that allows our staff to access everything they need from anywhere, as long as they have internet access and their password. They can use their own device or our standard laptop. If they choose to use their own device they get an allowance with the expectation that they will keep their software up to date. They can also use it as a tax deduction at the end of the financial year. It doesn’t have to cost a lot and we find that people are far more productive when they have access to flexible practices, rather than having to be in the office every day.
Do you have advice for other employers?
My biggest piece of advice is that policies, quotas or targets don’t help move the business towards gender diversity without the leadership being committed to the goal and modelling the appropriate behaviours. Leadership is action – it’s really important that senior leaders are aligned with the values and thinking on gender diversity, and then act accordingly.
You may ask why a middle aged man with three children is so committed to workplace gender diversity. The answer is that I believe that with gender diversity we can achieve diversity of thinking, but on the other hand, if we have only similar types of people, we will come up with the same solutions again and again. If organisations just focus on diversity in general without an emphasis on gender diversity, they tend to achieve ethnic diversity, but don’t address the unconscious bias around gender diversity.
Finally, I’ve seen a lot of stereotyping in the IT industry with a ‘boys only’ culture that doesn’t treat women so well and believes that only men can do the job well. I’ve seen all male teams fail badly, but I’ve also seen all female teams fail badly. That’s why it’s so important to try and maintain a good gender balance.