Buried way down on the list of ways in which workplaces can ensure that they are an employer of choice of women is the point “Does your organisation keep statistics on the career progression of staff who have worked periods of part time work?”
I wish it wasn’t buried so far down the list, because in my mind it’s a really important question.
I think that in the majority of workplaces there is general acceptance of the need to allow for flexible working arrangements. We live in the 21st Century and we recognise the fundamental need for work/life balance. In relation to this we now have enshrined in legislation that workers cannot be discriminated against because of their caring responsibilities and we also have the right to request flexible work arrangements, 12 months unpaid maternity leave (and recently paid maternity leave – yay!) and the right to request and additional period of up to 24 months inclusive.
These represent huge achievements towards better work/life balance and go a long way to addressing the needs of parents balancing work and caring commitments. There are still problems with these reforms – like we have the right to request flexible arrangements however there is no mechanism to appeal rejection of your flexible work request by your employer. But the crucial thing is that the legislation has brought to the forefront the importance of achieving workplaces that meet families’ needs.
I love the fact that my workplace offers flexibility. I’m fortunate in that I have never had any obstacles to my requests to work part time after returning from maternity leave. When I first returned from maternity leave I worked two days a week. This year my oldest son started school and I changed my working arrangements again to work the equivalent of 3 days spread out over 4 so I can drop him off at 9 and pick him up at 3. I think this kind of flexibility is amazing and only hope with the new laws that it is extended to more and more workers.
What I am finding at the moment however is that workplace cultures allow you to work flexibly within your existing position, but it’s extremely hard to move beyond that role and still have flexibility. It’s like women are being asked to choose between having flexible working arrangements (and thus staying in the role they were in prior to working part time) or advancing up the career ladder (which requires you to take on full time roles with far less flexibility).
A few days ago I wrote a post on Gender Asbestos or the attitudes about gender and work that are hidden and embedded in the walls, cultures and mindsets of organisations. It is these hidden attitudes that make up the new front of where battles about gender equity will occur.
We’ve embraced flexibility in the workplace, but only in particular ways. The model goes:
Woman without child has a full time job. Woman has child, returns to same job part time. Woman remains in same job part time to attend to kid’s needs. Woman can only advance up the career ladder when she decides she is happy to work full time again and then she can get a different job.
In my mind career progression for part time workers (who are on the whole women) is one of the new equity hurdles. We need to challenge workplace cultures to show that roles at a whole range of levels can be done on a part time or job share basis.
Staff who work part time (and for the most part timers are women- 80% of part timers at my work are women) are disadvantaged on the career development front in a number of ways.
When managers and directors go on periods on leave part timers are rarely if never offered the opportunity to act in those higher positions.
In many work places there is an underlying assumption that these jobs have to be done full time – so offering the opportunity to a part time staff member sometimes never crosses managers’ minds.
Often there are jobs in workplaces that would be suitable to be advertised as part time positions. However workplace culture operates from a default position that roles are full time. So we never think to advertise a job part time and thus there is a limited pool of different part time positions to apply for.
So if you can’t get experience acting in a higher role, or there are no other part time positions to apply for, what can you do to help set you up for career advancement whilst working part time?
An obvious answer would be study. Get yourself some more qualifications.
And there lies another rub.
Many workplaces that support employees financially to do degrees that will benefit the workplace will only reimburse part time employees pro rata. If you already have an undergraduate degree and are looking to do a postgraduate degree this would see you having to fork out several thousands of dollars from your own pocket to study. So the study option now looks doubtful too.
Workplaces are changing to accept flexibility, but they’re not offering the same opportunities to flexible workers. This exacerbates problems in workplaces such as not having enough women in senior levels.
Workplace cultures need to change and the default model of work as full time needs to be adequately questioned.
We need to reveal some of the asbestos in the walls to make sure the development of women in the work place is not stunted. We need to ensure that women are not subtly discriminated against because of their caring responsibilities. Women should not have to choose between being available for their kids and climbing the ladder.
Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/30591976@N05/3977105830/sizes/l/in/photostream/ with thanks to spratmackrel.