It’s been a while since I banged my gender diversity drum. Lately however, there has been lots of media coverage on the impact of COVID-19 on female workforce participation. The Prime Minister even tackled it head-on in his National Press Club speech this week.
It’s being argued that women have experienced greater unemployment, as the jobs which are being lost are primarily casual and part-time, of which women make up the greater part. It’s also argued that women have greater responsibility for housework, caring, and managing children’s home schooling. All of this makes them less available for paid work. Just when we were enjoying a steady upward trajectory in our participation rates and reduction of the pay gap in Australia…it’s very disappointing.
Okay so that’s the depressing stuff. I however have a chronic case of optimism, and firmly believe that this experience of everyone being forced to work remotely is exactly the shot in the arm that female workforce participation needed. Until now, as recruiters, when we’ve asked employers whether women can work a day or two a week from home, or had the discussion around flexibility at school drop-off or pick-up times, we’ve had to strap on our battle helmet and be ready to argue the case (note: I am definitely not saying every employer is like this. Some are brilliant, but they are still very much the minority).
Right now, when we’re all looking at each other in Brady Bunch Zoom tiles on our laptop every day, seeing each other’s cats walking across keyboards, partners running past in the background, kids interrupting to show off their completed home school task, we all understand better than ever, that we are all human. We all have lives outside of work that bring us joy and make us better co-workers, and that, for the most part, it makes zero difference where we do our job from.
It is my fervent hope that this experience opens the eyes of employers who previously regarded requests for flexible work with suspicion, or thought that it was a way to ‘slack off’, too difficult to manage, or made people ‘not really part of the team’. COVID-19 has disproven all of those theories with gusto.
Put simply, I am a big believer in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. People never ask for flexible work conditions for no reason. They are trying to meet the second and third fundamental needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. If employers can empower their workers to meet those critical needs through something as simple as working remotely or flexible hours, they are opening a path to creating a self-actualised workforce. A self-actualised workforce is going to out-perform, out-innovate and out-deliver in engagement, loyalty and productivity all day long, compared to a workforce distracted by an ongoing need to meet basic safety and belonging needs.
To me, it’s a no-brainer. This doesn’t just apply to women in primary caring roles: it can be people of any gender, people with disability, people with mental health conditions, neurodiverse people, people wanting to transition into retirement, people wanting to upskill themselves with further study, people needing to care for sick or aged family members. The pay-off far outweighs any perceived cost, and will provide you not only with a competitive business advantage, word will get out. Your exceptional employer brand will have the best talent in town knocking on your door.
Here endeth my drum-banging, thanks for reading to the end. If you’d like to talk further about anything in this blog, please email me or call me directly on 03 9963 4802. I am always up for a good brainstorming session.
General Manager, Operations