Making the Most of Flexible Work Arrangements

Making the Most of Flexible Work Arrangements

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Can flexi-work increase opportunities and reduce barriers for women?

  • Not all flexible work arrangements are centered around working from home.
  • Job sharing is a flexible option that may help retain women in senior positions.
  • Government and employment policies should encourage men’s uptake of flexible work as well as subsidized universal healthcare.

Many women returning to work from career breaks opt to come back part-time. This may be due to personal preferences or, on the other hand, expensive and inadequate child-care arrangements that make returning to full-time work for both parents either impossible or pointless in terms of no financial gains for doing so (once child-care costs are subtracted).

Many women in senior roles may find themselves faced with a situation where they are told by their employer that their role cannot be done part-time. They then have to decide whether to accept a different (and usually lesser) role that can be done part-time or return to work full-time despite their wishes.

But there is another option: job sharing. If an employer is open to the idea, another employee can be appointed, and the role can be shared. This has the benefit of keeping more women in senior roles even if they choose to or need to work part-time.

But wait, we haven’t fixed anything

The concern with job sharing as a fix is that it is not actually addressing the root cause of the problem: the inequality in women’s access to work and thus economic independence and growth and, on the flip side, men’s access to family and care.

While job sharing may be a temporary solution to keep women who opt to work part-time in senior roles, more is needed to support women’s labor force participation after having children or caring for a relative. Government and employment policies that encourage men’s uptake of flexible work and parental leave as well as subsidized universal healthcare are good places to start. When men have greater opportunities and fewer penalties, in terms of assumptions about their commitment and performance, to work flexibly, women then have the volition to engage in paid work and to continue their career development. For this to happen, we need better parental leave for fathers around the world and more support from employees and colleagues in workplaces — both in terms of workplace policies and in changes to workplace culture and norms. This is no easy task, but long-term solutions are needed if we have any hope at creating lasting change.

I would also like to point out that flexible work discussions (and complaints) are a luxury and privilege — not everyone can work flexibly, and this can often be a middle- or upper-class privilege to even discuss. Also, not all families are the same, and much of this work assumes a heteronormative mother-father family arrangement, which makes it difficult to generalize beyond the prototypical family set-up.

Sojo Monzon, Victor; Ryan, Michelle; FINE, CORDELIA; Wheeler, Melissa; MCGRATH, MELANIE; Glennie, Miriam; et al. (2022): What works, what’s fair? Using systematic reviews to build the evidence base on strategies to increase gender equality in the public sector. Figshare. Online resource.