The benefits of a diverse workforce are plentiful – from increasing innovation to boosting the bottom line. But despite the steps taken to address inequality and gender biases in the workplace, there are still several challenges unfairly holding women back in their careers – and the UK’s businesses are at a disadvantage as a result.
Data published last year by the ONS revealed that women are still significantly more likely to have caring responsibilities for dependents than men – and the challenges of returning to the workforce after having a child are well documented, with many women feeling unable to return to work. These issues are not only a huge roadblock in the path to equality, but they also negatively impact UK businesses and productivity levels.
Flexibility is key
22% of female shift workers in our survey reported feeling they do not have enough time with their families, with a further 9% reporting that their family life is suffering as a result of a lack of flexibility. Offering a flexible schedule is key to enabling women to stay in the workforce and paving the way for a future generation of female leaders.
By giving all employees the flexibility to create their desired work-life balance and choose the schedule that is right for them, employers will find themselves with staff members who are motivated to work hard and remain loyal to the business.
Removing the flexibility stigma
While the number of businesses offering flexible working is gradually increasing, the concept is yet to be fully embraced by some business leaders as it (wrongly) has a bad reputation. We’re stuck in an impasse in which too many companies still associate flexible working with high costs and scheduling nightmares – but this is far from the truth.
With the right tools and technologies in place, flexible working can be easy to implement for organizations of any size or industry. By allowing company leaders and employees to collaborate on a schedule that is mutually beneficial, flexible working as a standard practice can help to improve retention levels, reduce costs and boost employee happiness. In fact, 17% of women surveyed in our study stated that they would be more productive at work if they were given flexible working options.
Keeping up momentum in a stretched economy
This year, the UK has experienced a steady incline in the number of people working, and according to the ONS, this is due in part to a continuing increase of women securing or returning to full-time jobs.
This can only be good news for UK businesses, that are now operating in an even tighter labor market that has been strained by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The new lack of access to European talent means UK companies must take new steps to attract and retaining talent within their own borders.
Flexible working is a key approach to tackling this challenge, helping to boost the productivity levels of those already in the workforce, but also to reintroduce women back into the workplace who had previously faced obstacles from factors such as caregiving responsibilities. Providing flexible working options is a win-win not only for the UK economy but for the women eager to continue down their career paths without facing unconscious workplace biases.
Knocking down the barriers to inclusivity
While it’s clear the UK is making progress in encouraging and supporting women to stay, and return to, the workforce, there’s still progress to be made.
Business leaders have a responsibility to make it clear to staff that flexible working is not a lesser form of work. Ensuring that all workers – men and women alike – who are working flexibly are afforded the same career opportunities is vital. For employers to get the most from their talent, they need to champion flexible and part-time structures and invest in tools and technologies that help to progress women up the career ladder regardless of their working patterns or personal responsibilities.