Women in the workplace and the need for greater autonomy
Quick question: Who cares more about workplace flexibility—women or men? Most of us assume women value flexible work arrangements such as hybrid or remote work more than men but a recent study by the Women in the Workplace report in partnership with LeanIn.Org found that all employees place a high value on greater autonomy, far more than their employers do. This has wide-ranging implications for leaders looking to attract and retain the best talent—and for those who seek to elevate more women to the C-suite level by bolstering the “missing middle”— the ranks of female managers and directors.
The study surveyed 27,000 employees and 270 senior HR leaders throughout North America and its conclusions debunk several common myths about women in the workplace. One of these is that “women are less ambitious than men”. In fact, since the pandemic, women, and especially younger women, have become more ambitious and more committed to flexible work arrangements. Seventy-five percent of women under the age of 30 aim to become senior leaders. Part of this increase is attributed to the flexible work arrangements implemented during the pandemic. The experience of being able to work remotely or hybrid gave women (and men) the chance to be productive with less risk of burn out. It was a real time experiment in work/life balance that proved that personal needs do not have to be sacrificed to achieve high productivity and career advancement.
Women rank workplace flexibility which includes the “opportunity to work remotely” and “control over when to work” as top three benefits along with healthcare benefits, yet employers rank flexible workplace policies much lower in terms of their importance in recruiting a diverse workforce. Over 80 per cent of employees (both women and men) say that working remotely enhances their abilities to work more efficiently but only half of HR leaders agree.
This divergence could lead to less employer success in recruiting and retaining high value employees.
Clearly, leading organizations need to address the high value employees place of workplace flexibility. There are four key ways to do this:
1. Formalize a flexible workplace policy
During the pandemic, many organizations were forced to create workplace systems on-the-fly. In some cases there were different rules within the same company based on the preferences and needs of individual managers and departments. Company leaders need to set company-wide policies along with guidelines on how much discretion individual managers must adapt these based on individual employee needs.
2. Measure outcomes
What affect do flexible workplace policies have on efficiency, productivity, recruitment efforts, workplace diversity, employee retention, DEI initiatives? Only by measuring outcomes over time in these key areas can leaders determine whether they need to adjust their policies to better align with business goals.
3. Leader training
Managing hybrid and remote employees can be more challenging for managers and requires a new skill set. Organizations need to invest in their managers, directors, and C-suite talent to ensure they have the skills and support to lead new and evolving workplace cultures. HR leaders should look to other top companies and clone some of their proven people management strategies.
4. Create the right incentives
Organizations should incentivize leaders to motivate them to address employee needs around workplace flexibility. Performance evaluations could include explicit goals on how managers address employee priorities around flexibility and trust.
Organizations which successfully implement and manage workplace flexibility can increase the employee diversity at the middle level of managers and directors. This is the key to fixing the “broken rung” issue. By filling this talent pipeline, companies ensure they have a wide and diverse talent pool to fuel the next generation of leaders.