The Power of Flexibility: Supporting Women Across the Workforce

September 8, 2023 | Leadership at Work | 5 min read

Today, it’s common to hop on a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call and see your co-workers in a range of attire — from sweatpants to polo shirts.

The COVID pandemic and shift to remote work has prompted a new evolution of working. It’s given many people more insight into their co-workers’ lives, purely because they are seeing a corner of their home. This shift has inspired a more human approach to work, which has become common across many organizations moving to remote-first policies.

In a recent World of Work survey, 81.8% of respondents said remote work and flexible work schedules will be more important for job candidates going forward. It's evident that remote work will persist across a wide range of industries.

At the same time, we’re seeing flexible work schedules take a variety of forms, including compressed work weeks, custom working hours or flex-time, and alternative schedules that provide employees with greater autonomy.

This has been particularly helpful for women in the workforce. Pre-COVID, 26.2% of women worked from home. Nearly twice as many women worked from home in 2020. In 2021, the number of women working remotely dipped only slightly to 41%, according to the Washington Post.

For many women , especially those with family or caregiving commitments, a flexible schedule means they can manage their time more effectively by tending to both their work and home duties with fewer conflicts.

Moreover, flexible schedules can be instrumental in closing the gender gap in the workplace, as they enable women to pursue their career goals without making sacrifices to achieve them.

The Power of Flexibility for Women in the Workplace

One of the most compelling arguments for flexible work schedules is that they can increase productivity — and in some cases, the increases are substantial.

This flexibility allows employees to complete their tasks during times when they have the most energy, leading to better performance and efficiency.

When balancing home and work life, women often serve as the primary caregiver. One study showed the majority (59%) of women put in up to 20 hours of unpaid work at home, compared to only 41% of men. Increasing the number of hours put in at home, the disparity grows.

This means women must work harder than men to achieve the same results, let alone advance.

Furthermore, women are susceptible to biases that men often aren’t. They are judged more harshly for wasting time or not being available when needed, and these judgements negatively impact a woman’s success in the workplace.

“Women experience biased treatment relative to men simply because they are women,” writes Andie Kramer, founder of ASKramer Law, in Forbes. “These unjustified attitudes lead them to treat women as 'not as good as' men. The result is the gendered standards that influence organizations in ways that are unjustifiably less favorable than the men.”

Flexible schedules are a first step for many organizations to overcome gender inequality and empower women in their workforce to excel.

A Four Step Blueprint to Work-from-Home (WFH) Success

Implementing new or different flexible work methods takes careful planning and strategic execution. Here are some key elements to consider:

1. Clear Communication

The first step toward implementing flexible schedules is clear communication. Leaders should openly discuss the new policy, explaining its benefits, how it will work, and how it aligns with the company's values and goals.

It's also important to be transparent about any potential challenges and how the company plans to address them. Regular updates and open channels for feedback are crucial, as they allow employees to voice their concerns and suggestions, fostering a sense of involvement and ownership.

2. Trust

For a flexible schedule to be successful, employers need to trust their employees. Instead of focusing on hours worked, the emphasis should be on the quality of work and meeting targets.

This shift requires a culture of trust and autonomy. Employees should feel empowered to manage their time effectively without fear of being micromanaged. Building a culture of trust not only supports the implementation of flexible schedules but also boosts morale and job satisfaction.

3. Use of Tech

Technology plays a critical role in facilitating flexible work schedules as well. Tools for project management, video conferencing, instant messaging, and document sharing can help employees collaborate and stay connected, regardless of where or when they're working.

It's also useful to have systems in place for tracking performance and productivity, which can provide objective data to support a focus on results rather than hours worked.

4. Training for Managers

Managers play a pivotal role in implementing any flexible working methods. They need to be trained to manage remote teams and individuals with different work schedules.

This includes learning to communicate effectively across different platforms, understanding how to set clear expectations, and knowing how to measure performance based on output. Training should also cover strategies for building team cohesion and maintaining a sense of connection among team members, regardless of their schedules.

Beyond training, ongoing coaching can be beneficial for managers navigating the transition. It’s crucial for all leaders within an organization to receive training on working with a diverse workforce, including women who face a unique set of challenges. This is where specialized coaching can best serve all leaders.

This coaching can help managers break down traditional gender biases and stereotypes that often hinder women's career progression. It equips them with the tools and strategies necessary to create a more inclusive, equitable, and productive work environment.

Skillsoft is hosting an upcoming webinar that teaches leaders how to empower women within their organizations. It’s led by Antje Brügmann, Executive Coach & Global Trainer.

Attendees will learn how coaching can:

  • Help women+ develop and enhance their leadership skills
  • Provide a supportive workplace that enables organizations to meet their goals
  • Foster a culture of inclusivity and create a diverse leadership pipeline

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