Flexible work helps close the gender gap — and gives small business the edge

gender gap flexible work

Beam Australia co-founders and co-CEOs Stephanie Reuss and Victoria Stuart.

When it comes to closing the gender gap in Australian business, there are two key things we need to do: create pay equity and get more women into senior leadership positions.

At Beam Australia, we care about both, but are laser-focused on solving the latter — what McKinsey & Co call “The Stupid Curve”.

The fact that even though more women graduate with higher levels of formal education, by the time employees reach the pointy end, they represent only 17.1% of chief executives and 31.5% of key management personnel. Crazy. 

Graph updated by Beam. Source: supplied. 

Where have all the women gone?

They have dropped out, or back, and are now largely missing from leadership roles across corporate Australia.

Why?

One big reason: there is simply a huge number of experienced, qualified professionals who can’t work full-time, inflexible weeks, and most happen to be women.

How often have you seen a leadership role in a corporate organisation being advertised or done part-time? 

In fact, when it comes to mobilising more women into the workforce, part-time work is as important to women as access to childcare (49% vs 48%). And childcare isn’t changing any time soon!

At Beam, when we offer mid-senior roles part-time, the playing field is levelled: 87% of the time, the successful candidate is a woman. This reflects the ratio of women to men in our talent pool.

But this isn’t just about mums, and it isn’t just about women. Flexible working is more inclusive for everyone, especially carers, dads, professional athletes, regional workers — and talent are increasingly saying no to roles that don’t have it.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Australia. In the US, “younger workers are pushing back” on 9-5 desk working, reports The New York Times:

“More of them expect and demand flexibility … the ability to work remotely, come in late or leave early, or make time for exercise or meditation. The rest of their lives happens on their phones, not tied to a certain place or time — why should work be any different?”

Who’s best placed to crack the flexible working code and harness more pools of great talent?

Small to medium, growing businesses! 

Here’s why.

It’s much faster to change the culture

One of the biggest barriers to enabling flexible ways of working is culture and mindset.

Many companies fall at this first hurdle. Employees feel like longer hours equals being a top performer; stress in the workplace is seen as a signifier of good work.

At corporates, changing culture in a believable way is hard.

At smaller organisations, it’s much easier to role model from the top and make sure you’re focused on outcomes, not time spent at a desk.

A top performer equals a highly productive contributor.

You’re able to use budgets flexibly

Most larger businesses create talent budgets by headcount, not salaries. This means hiring flexibly just doesn’t make sense to managers. It’s another roadblock to using budgets in different ways.

As a small business owner, you can decide to use $100,000 towards a full-time generalist or part-time specialist. You can decide whether you need coverage across the week, or capability to take the business forward.

Hiring part-time and flexible workers aligns with the way you do business

Gender equity is not usually the driver of small business hiring decisions, nor should it be! All companies need the best person for the job, and the best person for the budget they have. 

It just so happens that hiring flexibly can help attract more diverse talent — which is a good thing for your bottom line!

How? There are fewer barriers to limit the talent pools you’re accessing. Because you’re able to offer all types of flexible work, without infrastructure or process in the way, you’re able to provide flexible, part-time, remote, four-day weeks, and more, to open up new pools of talent. This makes sure you reach the best people for the job — and maximise the effectiveness of your talent budget. 

Hiring inclusively on all fronts is good for business.

Flexible talent want to work for you

People seeking meaningful part-time roles tell us every day they want to work for businesses where they can make a difference and see their direct impact. Although many come from corporate environments, they are now drawn to helping smaller businesses grow. 

They want to be able to chat with the managing director or chief executive and help them realise their vision. They want to work for innovators. They want to spend their hours at work productively, not getting caught up in red tape.

Here is your advantage and why your business will continue to grow, driven by some of the best people in the market. 

Side note: flexibility can take many forms. It’s about finding the best types that suit your business and employees: remote working, compressed workweeks, flexible start and end times, school hour roles, school holiday leave, and more!

NOW READ: Australia needs to follow the UK and introduce a flexible work bill

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