The Major Projects Association (MPA) last week held its latest event on gender balance examining “three things that work”. PwC, Royal Mail Group and HS2 Ltd shared their experiences of improving diversity and inclusion with attendees and I summarised the event for the MPA in a report that can be viewed here
As usual the content of the meeting was thought provoking and useful, with each company outlining initiatives that were improving their businesses, but there was a recurrent issue that the meeting kept visiting – flexible working.
There are many reasons why employees, particularly female employees, need to work flexibly. But there are also many reasons why they may not feel comfortable asking to do so. From a fear that they many be viewed as less committed, or a (reasonable) expectation that the request will be rejected, many people don’t make flexible working requests. Some will then struggle to work the hours required, others will simply leave. Both scenarios are bad for business. And yet as Pauline Broadway, business change director at consultant Afiniti pointed out, flexible working is a two way street benefiting both business and employee. With strong communication, good planning and continuous reviewing, teams can operate highly successfully with members that may be part time, work in different locations or work alternative hours.
In fact Andy Woodfield, partner at PwC and leader of the company’s successful reverse mentoring programme, observed that when employees worked flexibly the whole team’s performance improved. Why? Because the flexible employee uses their working time as effectively as possible motivating the team around them and driving progress.
Of course there are many companies that have not yet come around to the benefits of flexible working, or believe that they can’t accommodate it. But these are not reasons not to ask for it.
With two young children myself I always work flexibly and I am proud to do so. Maintaining my career while supporting a family is a difficult balancing act, requiring intense focus that was not so crucial when I had more time on my hands.
The growing number of success stories of flexible working, the need for companies to ensure that they retain more female staff, the acknowledgement that diverse companies are more profitable, and the technology revolution that enables us to be “in the office” from anywhere means that there are more opportunities than ever for people to work flexibly, so don’t be ashamed to ask. It might even be better for the company too.
*Of course for working parents things don’t always go to plan and I’ve previously blogged about that here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/bernadette-ballantyne/working-parent-problems_b_7395686.html