When Robyn Batson’s eldest child started his VCE year, she had no idea what she was in for. As Sussan Group’s people and development manager, Batson has been a key part of developing the company’s flexible working arrangements for the past eight-and-a-half years.
Still, it took her boss, Sussan’s executive chair and owner, Naomi Milgrom, to remind Batson that she would need to plan her work that year to accommodate her son’s big school year. “It was Naomi who sat down with me at the beginning of the year to help me plan my calendar. When I needed to take leave at different times to support my son; having his exams in my diary so I was able to drop him off and pick him up during this period.”
Milgrom is an ardent advocate of flexibility in the workplace, but what marks her stance out from most other leaders is her commitment to flexibility at the executive level. “We see flexibility as a vital tool,” Milgrom told a lunchtime forum at Melbourne Business School’s Centre for Ethics yesterday.
“Flexibility is an alternative to male-oriented, traditional business practices. We recognise that long hours and inflexible work practices are major obstacles to the careers of many, many talented women, so we are doing it differently. I would even be prepared to say that addressing culture and flexible work practices are critical to addressing the paucity of women in senior roles in Australian businesses, but unfortunately, it is not happening.”
Milgrom’s presentation comes in National Telework Week (November 12-16), a federal government initiative designed to encourage employers to let their staff work offsite, and coincides with the release by the Australian Institute of Management (NWS and ACT) of a white paper on the subject, called Managing in a Flexible Work Environment.
AIM’s manager of public policy, Robyn Clough, says perceptions about flexible work need to change. “Flexible work arrangements are currently associated with a lack of commitment to an organisation and colleagues may resent them as a privilege extended only to the lucky few.”
Milgrom, however, presents a strong case for return on investment within her group of companies from flexible work policies and a commitment to diversity.
Milgrom promoted the CEO of Sportsgirl, Elle Roseby, to her current role a week before Roseby left on maternity leave with her first child six years ago.