Is flexible working hours the gender gap solution for your Hertfordshire business

Parenting is tough. Anyone with kids reading this will find themselves automatically nodding to themselves. Becoming a mum or a dad is a seismic shift in your life. Juggling your own sleep and mealtimes with the needs of a newborn is difficult enough, but add to that the guilt of separation some feel when they go back to work, the cost of childcare and the crowds of family, friends and generally opinionated people telling you how you should be doing things and, well… parenting is tough. Believe it or not this is a huge opportunity for employers, but one that most seem to inexplicably ignore, so this article looks at one simple shift in attitude that could make a big difference to your business – flexible working hours.

Not all women dream of parenthood as a reason for giving up their jobs, but most employers seem to see it as cause to limit their careers – it’s all or nothing, you either return to work on a full-time basis or not at all, and part-time positions are often seen as limiting to prospects for progression. But with more and more women wishing to work beyond parenthood and the demand for gender equality growing, maybe employers should be considering the value that someone brings to their role rather than how long they spend doing their work or where they are located for their working day.

Flexible working requires a perception shift, because whether you’re offering flexibility in location, schedule or hours – while minimising or removing changes in salary or prospects – as with most things in business, you’ll need to be sure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Making your business more attractive to women (or men who wish to spend more time with their young families) or looking after those you already have in your business means opening your doors to the very best talent in the market, no matter their gender, and that can only be a good thing.

As an example, women make up just 14% of the workforce in the property sector, so in an effort to encourage more into the industry, Barry Cullen, Head of Future Talent, Diversity and Inclusion at the RICS, recently said: “Employers need to realise that offering flexible working can go a long way in helping to retain talented men and women who have parental responsibilities as it often increases employee morale, engagement, and commitment to the organisation.” In essence, flexibility on flexible employment could well benefit your business, and this is by no means restricted to the property sector.

Probably not surprisingly, according to a study by management consultants EY and flexible working consultants Timewise, 87% of full-time UK employees would prefer a more agile working arrangement.

Timewise co-founder, Karen Mattison suggests ten ways in which companies can use flexible working hours to attract more talented women into their workplaces:

Build a culture that supports flexible working

Be open to more agile working practices. Simply informing staff that you’re happy to discuss it can build a better culture.

Be proactive about offering flexibility

You can evidence your commitment to your workforce by raising the matter with those who are most likely to benefit from the choice.

Offer flexible options at the point of hire

As most in the recruitment sector would agree, a company’s prospects for growth depend on the quality of staff it hires and retains. Flexible working or flexitime could be the extra factor that helps you beat your competitors to the best female talent out there.

Design jobs with flexibility built in, not tacked on

Consider the opportunities and risks of shared positions, allowing for home working or time split between home and office.

Invest in the technology to support remote working

The tech exists to enable your staff to be just as productive from home, no matter whether they need access to their work files, to collaborate on team projects, or virtually attend meetings.

Champion different ways of working flexibly

Part-time working is only one option you could offer – there are a whole range of others, including activity-based working, alternative start and finish times, and more.

Use role models to encourage younger women

It’s new, not everyone understands it, and many might worry it could have a negative impact on their careers, so get those who have been there and done it to champion the move.

Think about scheduling

There are many activities that happen in the day (meetings, training, etc.) which could be scheduled for more convenient times for flexible workers.

Set up a returner programme

This is a no-brainer. If women are worried about the complexity or availability of a return to work after having a baby you may lose your female talent to competitors who are willing to be more open with their staff.

Face up to unconscious bias

Employers can fall into the trap of recruiting ‘more of the same’ – people who look and sound like them. To do so, though, however unconsciously, could well restrict the success of your company.

So, if you are looking to recruit or retain the best talent in your sector, flexible working is certainly worthy of consideration.

Luke Mason is co-founder of Ellis Mason recruitment agency, helping the small to medium sized business community across Hertfordshire to find the best people for exciting roles they can excel in. If you are looking for someone new for your office, contact us today on 01462 510 148.

Share this page