Women working in the NSW public sector have experienced more meaningful flexible work during COVID-19 and many want the arrangements to continue, a new survey has revealed.
The What Women Want survey, conducted by the Public Service Association, found that women in the NSW public sector would like to continue to access flexible work arrangements post-COVID. Many women surveyed indicated they had been getting more work done, felt more effective and could balance their caring responsibilities better while working from home during the pandemic.
Despite the public service in NSW adhering to an “if not, why not” flexible work policy, one in 10 of the 5000 women surveyed said they had had a flexible work request rejected prior to COVID-19.
“I requested to work from home one day a week on three separate occasions and was rejected each time. I was most aggrieved given various internal communications noting we were an ‘agile’ workplace,” one respondent to the survey wrote.
“I am now work from home like everyone else given COVID but would really like to continue a regular option to do so if/when we return to normal.”
Another respondent said: “I requested work from home for over three years, it was finally agreed to for one day per fortnight. It took a lot of negotiation and involvement from PSA to achieve this. Funny how we are all working from home now during COVID-19, but
took years to approve one day per fortnight.”
The two flexible work arrangements most important to women surveyed was the ability to access leave when needed (81 per cent) and having flexible work hours (80 per cent). Meanwhile 52 per cent of respondents marked the ability to work from home or off site as important.
Stewart Little, general secretary of the Public Service Administration, said COVID-19 has changed old-fashioned ideas about office-based productivity and it’s clear women in the NSW public service want workplace flexibility to continue in the wake of the pandemic.
“What concerns us is that the experience of public sector women isn’t reflecting the policies in place. Women were telling us up until COVID-19 securing consistent work from home and other flexible options were often rejected, or looked upon with suspicion,” Little said
“Meaningful flexible work for women isn’t about taking Zoom meetings at home. It is about making work fit with the reality of women’s lives – such as offering more job sharing and part-time roles.”
Just over 40 per cent of the women surveyed where satisfied or very satisfied with their current work/life balance, but 30 per cent said they are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.
For prison worker Nicole Jess, her rostered hours don’t offer much when it comes to flexible working arrangements, but she says if more employees could job share, it would make it easier to return from parental leave.
“Prisons are long term, secure work – but we need to make the availability of work there more flexible,” she said. “If women could job share or more easily go part-time that would be a huge plus.”
“We also need to see more women promoted into managerial roles, so that we can have more diversity in who is leading our prisons and managing officers.”
With fewer women than men in senior leadership positions with the NSW public sector, there is also an ongoing gender pay gap of 2.2 per cent.
“Women were telling us the wage gaps persists because men are appointed to the high-paid positions,” Stewart Little said. “But there are also systemic problems, were female-dominated sectors are underpaid.
When asked what the most important issues are to them at work, looking to the next twelve months, improving flexible work and pay equity were the biggest issues for women.