If we want to markedly change the picture for women working in Australia there are couple of key levers we can pull.
The first, silver bullet in my mind, is to change the dynamic in homes: evening out the distribution of unpaid work – and particularly caring – is the fundamental challenge.
Employers can help facilitate this shift by introducing policies specifically designed to encourage fathers to take extended parental leave and ensuring the organisational culture supports that. Governments too can provide policy settings around paid parental leave and childcare that better enable families to balance work and family.
Individuals can help create change by being mindful of the distribution of responsibilities, rather than simply accepting traditional gender roles. (And while I’m loath to “fix women” for the structural inequities that dog them, I do genuinely believe many women would benefit from lowering the bar – significantly – on the home front.)
But that aside, the other silver bullet that will change the picture for Australians at work is flexibility. Not as a pseudonym for a special arrangement for mums or getting paid less to work all hours around the clock. Rather, giving staff true autonomy about how their job is performed.
It requires trust and certainly some engagement and logistics but creating an organisational culture in which flexibility is embedded is absolutely feasible.
And today, on National Flexible Working Day 2019, is a day to consider that.
If you search the #FWD2019 hashtag on social media the flood of images and stories being shared by individuals and organisations about how they are embedding flexibility in their work practices is heartening.
Duncan Debono from our Advisory team works from home once a week, which enables him to be part of his two children's school drop-offs and pick-ups. We recognise that flexible working requires a flexible mindset for both employer and employee. @FlexWorkDay #FWDay2019 pic.twitter.com/zPx96aD84R
— GHD (@GHDspeaks) May 22, 2019
As part of @FlexWorkDay here's some pics of @yasgrigaliunas when she spent a year travelling with her family while working part-time. At WBGS we run a flexible & agile environment and we are proud to sponsor #FWDay2019! #GenderFlexGap #FlexWorkFullLife #TackleFlexism pic.twitter.com/gvEDlT9wCe
— World's Biggest Garage Sale (@WBGS_Global) May 21, 2019
We celebrate Flexible Work Day as we assist @QldPolice Officers to achieve a positive work life balance to the benefit of the whole Community. #qpue members should call us for advice. Our Industrial Team are waiting #FWDay2019 @FlexWorkDay pic.twitter.com/D5esoF9Lxo
— MickBarnesQPU (@MickBarnesQPU) May 21, 2019
— Amplify HR (@AmplifyHRAu) May 21, 2019
Happy @FlexWorkDay! @Employsure is a huge supporter of flexible workplaces and recognises the diverse ways our team can contribute to practicing what we preach for our #SME clients. #FWDay2019 #GenderFlexGap #FlexWorkFullLife #TackleFlexism pic.twitter.com/GbFkAX6u38
— Employsure (@Employsure) May 21, 2019
The scale of the event is proof that creating change is possible.
I’m an ambassador for FWD2019 because aside from believing it’s a game-changer for all Australians – regardless of age, gender or life stage – I’ve been the beneficiary of true flexibility and it’s been a key enabler in my career.
This is a story I’ve told before but indulge me. Six years ago the founder and then-publisher of Women’s Agenda, Marina Go, approached me about editing this platform for six months while Angela Priestley went on parental leave with her first child. I was about five months into a stint of parental leave of my own with my second daughter when Marina and I met.
After flagging the job, virtually in the same breath, Marina followed it up with a sentence that changed everything.
“You have two very small children and I know childcare is a nightmare so why don’t you have a think about how you might be able to make the job work and we can come up with an arrangement that will work? I believe you’ll be able to make it work, it might just look a bit different.”
That conversation about flexibility started from a position of ‘Yes, we can’. As a result, I could.
I took on a big job and was able to perform because my output was valued more than the time I spent in the office. I was empowered and trusted to perform and true flexibility allowed me to do that … and I knew then, as I know now, that that flexibility was a gift not afforded to everyone.
Imagine what would be possible if more of us were offered genuine flexibility? That’s a future I am excited about.