The way we work today is fundamentally different than how we worked a decade ago. Gone are the days when employees worked nine to five, Monday to Friday, within the four walls of an office. Thanks to technology, businesses now operate 24/7 from anywhere and everywhere.
Flexible workplaces are becoming the norm. While conditions can vary, we define flexible workplaces as organizations that allow employees a measure of control over when, where and how they work, including working part-time, working from home, setting their own hours and taking leaves of absence. Employees are increasingly seeking flexibility. For women, workplace flexibility is especially important.
At Bain & Company, the global management consultancy, increasing the number of women in the workplace is not just a "nice to have," but a strategic priority. Numerous research studies suggest that diverse groups are more innovative, creative and often drive to better outcomes -- something that is critical in our business. We also realize the role that gender diversity plays in our ability to grow while maintaining our high bar for talent: women are a significant portion of the talent pool at top schools, and we simply cannot grow unless we are an attractive career option for this group.
Bain also has conducted extensive research on gender parity in the workplace. Our China Gender Parity Report showed with 73 per cent of women working, China boasts one of the highest female employment rates in the world, ahead of many developed countries. This is due, in part, to the fact that the cost of childcare is very affordable, relative to household incomes, and that members of the extended family, such as grandparents, often help care for children. Surprisingly, despite this fact, the 850 Chinese professionals Bain surveyed indicated that balancing work and family responsibilities affects women in China more than those in other countries. When asked why there were fewer women than men in senior roles, respondents ranked the fact that "Women's careers are slowed or disrupted by managing both work and family commitments" as the most important factor, whereas globally, it is ranked as only the second-most important factor.
Flexibility offers a solution to this dilemma -- it would help women manage their work-life balance and promote even greater female participation in the labour force.
Companies and organizations must revisit their support of their female employees to make sure they are getting the maximum benefit for their efforts. In order to improve employees' experiences with flexible working models -- of women employees especially -- organizations need to take the following steps:
- Actively encourage work flexibility and make it the standard for every position;
- Ensure that flexible arrangements are working successfully for both women and men;
- Ensure that a workplace-flexibility culture is in place, with a strong commitment and active support from the CEO and leadership team;
- Provide clear policies, set up enabling technology and create an agile work environment.
When organizations get it right, flexible work arrangements can boost productivity and advocacy, increase employee retention, provide the conditions for increased representation of women in senior leadership positions, and enable men and women to participate equally as caregivers while striking a better work-life balance.
Genuine gender parity efforts tend to increase employee engagement, which often correlates with better business performance. All parts of the equation -- employer, family and individual -- are critical to success. The good news is that many organizations are already helping women achieve equality and already have one or more gender parity programs in place. However, the current solutions are not sufficient, which is why organizations are increasingly seeking to implement more flexible working arrangements to help women progress to senior leadership positions.
By Dorothy Cai, Partner, Bain & Company, Inc.
Bain & Company is committed to finding ways to create job opportunities for more talented young women around the world, while combating poverty and increasing the diversity of the global workforce. For the last several years, Bain has worked with the G(irls) 20 Summit towards this shared goal. The Summit, which brings together delegates from each of the G20 countries to focus on the role women can play in building stronger communities through entrepreneurship, education and global experiences, embodies much of what Bain stands for: (1) Economic empowerment and equality of women and girls; (2) Working within global communities to build local capabilities that enable lasting change; and (3) A focus on delivering results and impact through project design and delivery.
As a firm, we are delighted to once again work with G(irls)20 and this year's Summit delegates in Beijing to help them create global change.
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