Are the nine to five traditions causing workforce exclusion for women and people with caring responsibilities?

The importance of women on boards across sectors has been evidenced widely. According to McKinsey, companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation – by 41% in terms of return on equity and by 56% in terms of operating results. Furthermore addressing the gender balance in senior posts is particularly important; the Women and Work Commission found that allowing women’s full potential in the work place could be worth £23 billion a year to the Exchequer.

In a study of the Fortune 500, Catalyst reveals that companies in the highest percentile of women on their boards outperformed those in the lowest percentile by 53% higher return on equity, 42% higher return on sales, and 66% higher return on invested capital.

More locally, Leeds University Business School reports that having at least one woman as director on the board appears to cut a company’s chances of going bust by about 20%. Having two or three female directors lowers the risk further and during 2011, companies in the STOXX 600 Index with more than 30% women managers outperformed those with less than 20% women managers by nearly 8%.

So, having this evidence, what is it that still prevents equality in senior posts across the Health and Care landscape?

We know that in comparison the NHS performs better in terms of gender balance than the private sector, and that’s something we should absolutely be proud of, and, it’s not enough, how long should we have to wait for equality?

Women currently make up approx. 47% of the workforce, although currently women’s unemployment is at a 24 year high. Women are as ambitious as men; and with 1 in 3 female graduates having a degree in health related study compared with 1 in 11 males, maybe consideration to working practices viewed as the norm should be reviewed.

The traditional management role of 9-5 doesn’t conform to most people’s lives these days, people have different responsibilities and it would seem sensible to have a more fluid approach.

Lack of flexible working is not only a barrier to gender balance, but to talent management and succession planning. With an aging population, and an increase in diseases such as Dementia, more people are requiring the flexibility to care for elderly family, in addition people living with a disability may require the flexibility to work reduced hours, or just simply work in different ways that support their needs and enhance their ability to do a good job.

There is a clear business case to review and innovate our working and recruitment practices, this article serves to stimulate thoughts and showcase several good areas of practice.

Research from CIPD and Westfield Health suggested only a third of employers (34%) have a formal, written policy or an informal, verbal policy in place to support working carers in their workplace, this is concerning, given that 3 in 5 people will end up being a care for someone at some point in their lives. Caring comes in all shapes and sizes, but the commonality remains, employees need to support them in the workplace before they lose the talent.

Employee support and access to flexible working can greatly increase staff morale, engagement, attraction and retention, it also reduces staff absenteeism, as people will not need to take time off work sick to care for family due to the lack of options presented to them. In addition, burning the candle, attempting to juggle, has an impact on health and wellbeing, reduction in productivity at work and also reduced motivation.

Looking more broadly, most companies do offer some degree of flexible working; most frequently these consist of part-time or job share, variable/compressed hours and career breaks. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found in 2011 that 96% of UK companies offered at least 1 form of flexible working and 70% offered three or more types. However, The CBI further found that companies are extremely reluctant to extend these flexible-working patterns further and to larger groups of employees, as they feared that it would have a negative impact upon productivity. The Future of Work survey 2012 concluded that many UK companies were fearful of extending the boundaries of flexible working due to concerns around competitiveness.

The NHS offers similar flexible working practices, however it would appear that these options reduce significantly, the more senior the post and also there is huge variation in availability and practices, seemingly dependent upon local practices and culture. However how often do we actively recruit flexibly?

In 2009 the Family Friendly Working Hours Taskforce under the lead of Yvette Cooper was established by the Department for Work and Pensions. It highlighted a number of compelling business reasons for flexible working such as falling absenteeism, greater retention of staff, increased productivity, greater staff loyalty and importantly the ability to recruit from a wider and more diverse talent pool of workers. After looking at business examples and hearing from employers and employees the Taskforce concluded there was a very strong business case for flexible working. In addition there was also a strong social case, which integrates improvements in child poverty and the gender pay gap.

Despite the case being made within recent years for an increase in flexible working opportunities, employers are still not providing the opportunities for work-life balance that employees feel they require particularly in more senior roles. Public perception is still very much behind the times in this also with 72% of the population not believing it possible to work part time in the case of senior roles thus demonstrating that the stigma of working part time persists. In fact it is the case that 1 in 10 workers earning over £40000 FTE do work part time. The reasons for working part time hours are varied, from childcare responsibilities, leisure commitments to caring for elderly relatives. However, the negative associations persist and many part time workers fear their commitment to their role is questioned and worry it may impact their chances of promotion.

 Research has highlighted that for true flexible working to occur senior management must be enabling factors in the cultural shift. Demonstrating to senior managers the real savings that can made and the increasing productivity, which is possible, is crucial if agile working is to be followed through. Where senior managers play an active role in encouraging flexible working the benefits are clear.

Flexible working relies on mutual trust and the breaking down of tradition working patterns of presenteeism. The Future of Work Institute highlight that even though companies are aware that change is needed they can remain hesitant (2012). This aversion to risk is certainly a barrier for some companies particularly the more traditional roles.

In the case of job share the benefits to employers are clear. Employers keep two valued employees who might otherwise feel they need to leave in order to pursue work-family issues. In turn the employer retains two sets of positivity and creativity and also skill mix.

Working as a job share means the employees must communicate extremely effectively in order to plan goals and share achievements. Covering for illness and holidays is simpler and with less disruption in term of customer service.

In a  UK survey by My Family Care and Hydrogen (a recruitment company) of 1.587 employees and 310 employers found that 54% of the working population want to work remotely or from home but just a third were encouraged to do so. 81% of workers seek flexible working above other benefits such as enhanced pensions or healthcare schemes. A further 45% would choose flexible working over a 10% salary increase. The survey concluded that flexible working is in fact ‘the future’ especially given the increasing numbers of working mothers in the UK, the increasing pension age and the rise of the ‘sandwich generation’ with dual caring responsibilities of children and aging parents.

Returning to diversity of boards, it would seem that at a time of great change, we need to enable and liberate all of our talent, prevent workforce exclusion and adapt and challenge current practices so that we can really begin to fully utilise the cognitive diversity of everyone, not just those who can work a 9-5, Monday to Friday week.

Senior positions are tougher than ever, there is a shortage of CEOs, and senior level leaders are suffering burnout and high levels of stress. This coupled with the recent shift in retirement age provides yet another argument in favour of flexible working and recruitment. We should be looking to retain our senior leaders and their wealth of knowledge and experience, rather than seeing hem walk into consultancy firms with all of their experience, skills and knowledge.

In the New Year we will be launching Equilibrium, an organisation, which is ambitious in its mission to, supports both individuals and organisations, to think differently about how they employ people. Equilibrium has been established to support organisations to be more flexible employers, and to support talented individuals to gain a place in the senior teams of public sector workforces.

The aims are to build a better future for both employees and organisations across the Public Sector to enhance quality, efficiency and innovation and ultimately lead to better service user outcomes. Equilibrium will facilitate and empower positive practical solutions to the workforce exclusion and talent drain currently facing today’s workforce market. We don’t want to just talk about it; we want to make a change!

We know that offering flexible work opportunities at the point of hiring can increase the talent pool, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that many women are working below their ability and potential due the lack of flexible options, and we know its not just women who want flexibility.

Flexible working option can enable organisations to get the skills & experience they need, whilst reducing costs, to increase performance and engagement with employees and to enhance innovation through cognitive diversity.

We work with organisations to help fit the jigsaw together – flexible hiring as well as working opportunities, not recruiting what we had, but rethinking and designing what would work

We need to stop hiring like for like and think about how we can hire differently and better’

Kirstie Stott, The Inspiring Leaders Network