Want productivity? Get flexible and stop wasting women

The Plan and the Word

Malcolm Turnbull:  Australia is transitioning from the mining construction boom to a new and more diverse economy… Our Plan will provide growth, jobs and a secure future for Australian families.
Me:  Hey!  When I co-founded gemaker in 2011, I had the same goals.

In less than five years, gemaker has achieved substantial growth and created jobs for 28 people – mostly women – that allow them to take good care of their families. Meanwhile, we have fostered Australia’s economic transition, by helping researchers, inventors and startups to take innovative products and services to market.

If you want to achieve similar results, I’ve got three words for you, Malcolm: FLEXIBLE WORKING CONDITIONS.

Struggling jugglers

We don’t lose our knowledge, skills or experience when we become parents, but many parents risk losing their professional roles unless they work as if their children don’t exist.

The struggle to juggle the demands of work and family spans around two decades, because school hours are not compatible with standard business hours, and our children need us even more in high school than in primary school, as they face more challenging homework and social pressures.

A recent study found that lost productivity due to the stress of juggling family and work life costs Australia $24billion annually. Read more

Wasted women

Perhaps you sympathise with employers who avoid employing mothers or women of childbearing age? Or perhaps you think that women who work part-time aren’t serious about their careers? Then you should consider this:

When given the opportunity to work flexibly, women are our most productive employees, wasting $14 billion less than their male colleagues every year.  Source: Ernst and Young’s Untapped Opportunity report

In other words, women will run faster in Lycra than in a one-size-fits-all corporate suit.  And they’ll overtake the men.

But while workplaces fail to recognise this, many professional women feel compelled to step down from the challenging and rewarding work they are capable of, accepting reduced income in exchange for simpler, more flexible employment that allows them family time. Their training and experience are under-utilised, and our nation pays the price.

Lower female workforce representation is not a reflection of educational attainment, with more female than male graduates. Australia’s investment in female education is being wasted – to the tune of over $8 billion.  Source: Ernst and Young’s Untapped Opportunity report

A friend ended her life a few weeks ago, shocking me to my core! Even with a Science degree, an MBA and much experience, after moving interstate, she’d struggled to find fulfilling employment, commensurate with her qualifications and skills, which still allowed her to be with her children when they were not at school. This confidence-sapping experience contributed to her lethal depression.

The Old Guard v The Future of Work

This tragedy and ongoing wastage moves me to expand gemaker further, to employ more mothers, fathers, people caring for aged parents, semi-retirees, disabled people, students… all those people who have so much to give, if we can only flex their working week.

Think I hire charity cases? Take a look at my team and think again.  And think about these statistics, next time you’re recruiting:

65% of Australians feel that their motivation and productivity would increase in a more flexible working environment. After terms of pay, flexibility of hours is the second most important criteria when looking for a job, ranking 40% more than predictability of work.  Source: Airtasker’s Future of Work Research Monitor

A friend who works for a BRW Top 100 accounting firm emailed her colleagues to say she would be working from home the next day. Two minutes later, a senior partner rang to ask if she didn’t have enough work. My friend had no staff reporting to her, virtual private network access and a well-resourced home office. There was no reason she couldn’t work from home, other than the inflexible attitude of the old guard.

Bend it like Beckham and start kicking goals

Take a long, hard look at every role in your company… If a job mainly requires use of a phone and a computer, it can mainly be done at home. If productivity can be measured by project delivery, rather than hours spent face-to-face with customers, then it can be done at home. If a role is project based, it can be divided into multiple roles, that don’t have to be full-time.

If Australia wants to grow new knowledge industries, attitudes about the way we work have to bend.  If you want to grow your business, employ someone in a flexible job.