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Flexible working has become one of the most prominent topics of conversation for many businesses across the UK with research showing that nine in 10 workers are looking for the option to work flexibly. As a result, businesses must act quickly to be considered an attractive employer and compete for the best talent.
As a new mum myself I know how important flexible working is – not only to new mums, but people of all genders and ages – and I am passionate about ensuring businesses know about the benefits and are aware what positive impact flexible working can have on productivity, retention and the UK talent pool in general.
The fact that only one in 20 FTSE 100 company Chief Executives are female in 2020 is shocking (according to the Fawcett Society’s 2020 Sex and Power Index), and I am a true believer that if more businesses woke up to the benefits of flexible working we would give more women – and men – the trust and autonomy to be able to build a long and successful career – without the need to compromise a life outside of work.
I am lucky enough to work for a business that has been extremely supportive of my need for flexible working and as such I am able to work four days per week. As a Great Place to Work® and an Investors in People Gold accredited company, Sellick Partnership has worked hard to allow our staff to have the flexibility they need to fit work around commitments at home, something I am incredibly passionate about. As an organisation we have already seen the benefits of being more flexible with our staff, and several of our employees are already taking advantage of the opportunities we offer to fit work around their home life. Knowing about these benefits has helped me, and a number of my colleagues greatly, but there are many women – and men – that are not given the same opportunity.
The basis of flexible working is trust, and I have met and spoken to many candidates that are not given the trust needed to make flexible adjustments to their working life. While I was off on maternity leave one such example sticks with me. I met a new mum who was working for a business that offered her no flexibility whatsoever and witnessing the impact this was having on her lifestyle and choices was difficult. She spoke about some of the hard decisions she was having to make, and it made me think of what situation I might have been in if Sellick Partnership had acted in a similar manner.
It is widely reported that some women choose to leave their careers or put their career aspirations on pause due to the conflict between having a family and a successful career. The support I am given ensures I am able to excel in my role as a Board member and Director. It is true, I have worked extremely hard to build up that trust and get to where I am, but that aside, I believe everyone should be given the opportunity to introduce some flexibility if they feel it will help them achieve their goals, both professionally and personally.
I don’t necessarily believe that flexible working needs to become a standardised benefit within any organisation. This simply wouldn’t work as everyone’s individual situations are very different. Instead, businesses need to look at ways they can introduce flexible working in a way that works for everyone. The NHS has done just that with their appointment of Jane Galloway as Head of Flexible Working, whose role is to encourage part-time work and other forms of flexible working across the UK health service.
I think this is a fantastic step forward. For an organisation as big as the NHS, flexible working must seem like a minefield. The workforce is so diverse, and everyone will have very specific needs, so introducing policies to suit must be extremely difficult. In appointing Jane, the NHS have recognised a need to support staff who require a more flexible way of working and are making steps to ensure staff have equal access to flexible working initiatives, something I think more businesses should be doing.
But how can businesses decide what flexible working initiatives are right for them? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer for this. Instead, I think organisations need to look at themselves under a microscope, and decide what is best for them, and their employees. It is also important to find out what your employees want, and what is important to them. That is what we did at Sellick Partnership.
We are a recruitment business, so working from home all the time wouldn’t work for us. I personally don’t enjoy it. I need to be in the midst of things, so I ensured my flexible working fitted around these needs. We do however recognise that some employees will be very different and need to have alternative options. That is why we introduced a core hours system and work with all our staff to ensure their working life compliments their home life. Myself, for example, I have altered my daily hours to suit, and work a four-day week, whereas some of my colleagues may choose to work one or two days from home depending on their role. Making flexible working succeed is finding the right balance between personal circumstances and business needs.
If more businesses took this approach, I feel we could make huge progress in the fight for gender equality and give more women opportunities to achieve senior board positions here in the UK. It is all linked in my opinion. Reports suggesting that the UK is “generations away” from achieving equality to me is outrageous, and something we really must look at. I have seen gender bias first-hand as a recruiter and am often surprised at the archaic viewpoints some businesses have in relation to gender equality and flexible working.
This is especially true when looking at countries like Sweden where work-life balance has become the norm and both women and men have access to the same flexible benefits where you can see a huge jump in productivity, and a push towards a much more inclusive society. The benefits seen in Sweden, and the four-day working week being proposed by Finland however are a way off yet here in the UK. There are also questions as to whether the benefits would work as successfully here as they have in their home countries. But the main point here is that there are success stories being promoted every day as to the real benefits of flexible working, and how successful policies can be in giving all staff a healthier balance.
Here in the UK I just think we need to be a little more open to the idea. I know what I can achieve with the flexibility I am given at Sellick Partnership, and I speak to candidates every day that are thriving as a result of the flexible approaches to work they are given. If this viewpoint was more widely introduced across the UK, I truly believe we could raise productivity, offer people a much healthier balance and start to close the gender gap once and for all.