Flexible working for men suggested
Employers should offer men flexible working options if they want to boost the woeful tally of women business leaders, a new Government report says.
Reducing the stigma of flexible working by getting all managers and employees to value it could stop it being thought of as the "mummy track" and "career suicide".
The Ministry of Women's Affairs has released a report on patching the leaky pipeline of female talent, drawing on overseas research and ideas from a panel of New Zealand diversity and leadership experts.
It says all workers should be offered clear and transparent flexible working options to reduce the stigma and career cramping that can come with juggling work and small children.
The report, Realising the Opportunity, pulls research from Australia, Britain and elsewhere and focuses on three factors that hamper women: unconscious recruitment bias, career breaks and flexible working.
It says flexible working would carry less resentment and more prestige if all workers were offered it.
Studies showed flexible working benefited employers and 80 per cent of workers were interested in it – including options such as working part-time, job sharing, flexi time, compressed hours, or extended unpaid leave for school holidays.
But often it was offered formally only to mums, or used on an ad hoc basis, and other workers feared being left to "pick up the slack".
On top, women and others working different or restricted hours missed out on networking opportunities and high visibility projects and could be seen as less committed, the authors said.
But if flexible working was widely used and accepted – including by senior managers – people would be able to use it without suffering a career hit.
Women often trade down jobs after taking time off to rear children or sacrifice prestige for family-friendly arrangements.
They are sometimes seen as less dedicated and given more routine work and fewer career-advancing projects, making withdrawing from their career track even more attractive, according to research cited in the report.
Of the three barriers to women's advancement, unconscious basis is the trickiest to solve, the report says. Unconscious bias is when people judge women leaders more harshly and see female traits as less compatible with leadership despite evidence men and women perform equally well, it says.
Ironically the same bias often punishes women who exhibit so-called "masculine" traits for being too aggressive.
Other suggestions in the report include raising awareness of unconscious bias – including a tendency by male managers to promote "mini-mes" – and using mixed-gender recruitment panels, manager training and transparent performance-related criteria to trip up people's unconscious assumptions.
A "critical mass" of 30 per cent senior women seems to improve other women's chances of advancing, it suggests.
Other ideas for boosting women's chances include helping talented women return to good jobs by providing money and technology to help them stay in touch with colleagues while on career breaks, organising catch-up meetings with managers, and offering refresher programmes before women come back.
It says chief executives must take charge of efforts to promote women if they are going to be effective.
The ministry says it still needs more New Zealand-specific information and is asking people to share their experiences.
"Leadership talent is in short supply in New Zealand and globally. Yet at every successive management level significant proportions of talented women drop out or their career stalls. This is the leaking talent pipeline," it says.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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