We’ve heard a lot over the years about the need for employers to provide flexible and part-time work opportunities for women to allow them to manage the care of children while getting back to work, but stories of men wanting to work less are only just coming to the surface.
Figures from the ABS show while the number of men negotiating shorter hours is growing, women still make up 70 per cent of all part-time workers. More than 45 per cent of the female workforce now works part time, compared to only 16 per cent of men.
In a perfect world, what would it look like if men and women had equal access to flexible or part-time work?
Over my career, I’ve seen how hard it is for men to break out of the norm of full time work, even when they really wanted to.
When I became Chief Executive…
I knew that I didn’t want to lead an organisation where people felt stuck and unable to balance their work and home responsibilities. I’ve seen those organisations, and I don’t think you get the best out of people – or keep the best people long term.
So, I’ve really focused on changing our culture on this, and it has been great to see the level of interest from senior-level men in becoming role models in this space. We’ve got some great stories about how male leaders have consciously changed their work patterns – and are then taking the time to tell people about it.
These are men who are making time to do school drop offs and picks up, to go and coach their kids’ sport teams, and to take on equal responsibility for taking time off to look after sick kids.
I think this sort of equal uptake of flexible working arrangements by leaders really changes people’s implicit understanding of what a leader looks like, and how a leader behaves. It makes it easier for women who are already taking up flexible and part-time arrangements to be seen as leadership material, and makes men happier to boot.
Stop the gender stereotyping
So, if ABS statistics are showing us there’s now a growing number of men now want to work part-time, why aren’t we seeing a change with more employers allowing this to become as acceptable as it is for women?
The problem is men working part-time – especially when it’s to look after children – cuts against long-standing stereotypes. Although it’s changing, it’s still true that a common theme in our culture is that women do the ‘caring’ and men do the ‘earning’.
Although many men want to break from this expectation, it doesn’t surprise me that they can feel uncomfortable asking for time off to pick the kids up from school, or to take up their full parental leave entitlement.
Research by Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women last year found men were twice as likely to be denied flexible working arrangements, compared to women. Men were also more reluctant to ask for more family-friendly working conditions because they could be ridiculed or put on a ‘daddy track’ to career nowhere. (In fact, some studies have shown men might become unhappy when they work flexibly due to disparaging attitudes from other staff members, or discrimination.)
Normalise flexible and part-time work for all
Fixing this is simple in theory – we just need to be brave enough to live it in practice.
It should be gender neutral and OK for staff members at any level to work this way – including senior managers. In fact, executives and frontline managers should lead the way.
If we can deliver that then businesses will ultimately reap the benefits – in terms of accessing the full talent pipeline (not just those men and women who are able to work a 40+ hour work week), and in terms of gaining employees who feel engaged and supported in their work.
Here’s hoping we can see these benefits soon.