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Flexible working stunts women's career progression

Many flexible workers feel their career progression has been limited as a result of their working patterns, according to research

A Manifesto for Change: A Modern Workplace for a Flexible Workforce, by Deloitte and Timewise, explored how working practices could be used to improve gender parity.

It found that even when business leaders wanted to accommodate flexible working there appeared to be a disconnect between what is said at the top and how this trickles down to staff.

The survey found that a significant number of women had experienced negative effects from flexible working. One in three (30%) respondents, 92% of whom were women, felt that they were regarded as having less importance because of their flexible working patterns.

One in four (25%) felt they were given access to fewer opportunities and missed out on potential progression and promotion opportunities. A further 28% felt disadvantaged because they couldn’t attend work-related events outside of working hours.

The study highlighted that the barriers to successfully embedding flexible working are mainly cultural and down to the attitudes and behaviours of managers.

Respondents said that employers should create workplace cultures in which people are judged on the work they do rather than the hours they work (70%), recruit and train managers who support their team (70%), and implement a range of flexible working solutions (60%).

Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte, said that the company had seen a shift in what employees wanted from working over recent years.

“The last four years have marked a huge change for our firm. Four years ago staff were telling us they wanted better work/life balance; despite us providing all the standard flexible working options you would expect from an employer of 17,000-plus. It was playing out in our retention and engagement data, particularly for our female employees,” she said.

“Today the story is very different – we have a reputation for providing our people with the means to balance a great career with commitments outside work. Now work/life balance is no longer the main reason people choose to leave our firm; people actually choose to join us because of our approach to agile working, and our people tell us they feel trusted to decide when, where and how they work.

"We have achieved this change simply by focusing on our culture, and ensuring we offer people options that really work for them and the firm.”

As part of the research, Deloitte and Timewise produced an action plan for businesses to combat outdated working practices.

Suggestions include: encouraging leaders to provoke cultural change and challenge the status quo, collecting data about flexible working to measure its success, and giving managers the tools to support a flexible workforce.

Deloitte and Timewise surveyed 2,000 professional workers and carried out in-depth interviews with business leaders.