Career Woman

The office, flexi-working and the gender gap opportunity

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For decades, we’ve talked about creating gender equity through the empowerment of women in leadership – consequently changing the composition and culture of the office as it is traditionally known.

With each passing year, the gender gap opportunity within the senior leadership sphere is increasing. Organisations such EY[1] report that over the next decade the impact of women on the global economy will be equivalent to that of China and India combined. And, a recent KPMG[2] survey reported that companies with females on their boards have achieved higher revenue growth, profitability and shareholder returns than those without.

So, what are the factors facilitating this? How are these factors impacting the way we work?

Redesigning the traditional office

Historically, a person’s career path and seniority within an organisation could be tracked by their progression from cubicle to private office – a person first seated on the outside of a heavy rectangular boardroom table, to eventually taking the “power seat” at one end.

The best companies today work very differently. Individual workspaces have been shifting from the old-fashioned private office to partitioned open spaces like cubicles, and more recently to agile workspaces; and boardrooms have made way for smaller conference spaces – or “huddle rooms”.

This office set-up allows people to be more empowered by working from where they prefer, rather than where they are assigned – so the focus of workplace design has now become how to serve and connect people, rather than merely contain them.

Technology paves the way for the modern day flexi worker

As a result of this shift, technology, has become somewhat of an exemplar for changing the composition of the office, how people work and the facilitation of gender equity – enabling more companies to offer their people different flexible working options without needing to overhaul the office space.

For too long, ‘flexible working’ has been limited to the ability to work from home – checking emails, in addition to the office. It’s been “Work more”, not ”work anywhere”.

In ‘Anywhere Working[3]’, a Polycom survey of more than 25,000 workers around the world, It was found that flexible working is becoming the basis for a truly digitally-transformed businesses – from the reception area to the boardroom and every space in-between.

We now have teams that are made up of those physically in the office, part-time office dwellers and full-time remote employees. Further, flexible working options also keep the most valuable talent within the organisation for longer – better retention providing better productivity.

The work-life balance adage

Another pertinent factor facilitating the advancement of flexi working is that of employee demographics, or the evolution of work-life balance. Flexi working is making it easier for women to return to work sooner after having children, for example; or, for men to do the same. It also allows for working family members to look after elderly parents if required.

Today, flexible working has evolved to include the concept of ‘anywhere, anytime working’. It’s about making your working hours as productive as possible, no matter your location of choice – a boardroom, huddle room, airport, or choosing to live in an entirely different location to your workplace.

Is gender an issue?

Providing the right work environment and HR support to empower a workforce to work from anywhere is essential in breaking the chasm of gender inequality. The ‘Anywhere Working’ survey found that while nearly two thirds of the global workforce take advantage of anywhere working – employees still have concerns about its impact. Does this flexibility mean employees would need to work longer hours? Would they still be considered equally for promotion? And, how can people build effective networks and relationships, which are considered key elements to career success?

Modern workplaces need to empower both men and women to embrace a ‘work anywhere’ ethos, especially at senior levels of management. When you achieve a workplace culture where it is considered business usual for employees to balance work with family, further studies, hobbies and other ambitions, it changes the dynamic of work, and retention rates for all employees, regardless of gender.

Improving gender equality is a focus for many companies right now, not only within the C-suite but throughout the whole organisation with initiatives to change the traditional composition and drive the number of women and ethnic minorities up with initiatives such as ‘Male Champion of Change’ and the ‘Panel Pledge’[4]. It comes down to diversity of experience and diversity of thinking that is ultimately demonstrated to be beneficial to companies.

At my workplace, we have crossed this chasm. Our executive management team comprises 36 percent women. Surpassing both the U.S. national and technology industry average of just 19 percent. Just last month we had a new born baby asleep in her father’s arms during a business review with 20 people on video conference; and, no-one thought the situation was unusual; importantly business carried on as normal. Had my colleague, a new father, been unable to solve conflicting demands in this way, we would have lost his insight and intellect from the meeting. Instead, he could participate while also participating in childcare responsibilities – a key element to gender equity.

Leading by example

According to the ABS[5], the number of employed people who work outside the traditional office has dramatically risen from 20 percent – 15 years ago, to 30 percent today; but, it is never going to be a one size fits all approach.

I’m often asked how I lead by example when it comes to encouraging anywhere working within my team. My team is spread across Asia Pacific – from Australia and New Zealand up to China, Japan, South East Asia and Korea and over to the west in India, and they are all empowered to work how and where they want thanks to our daily use of technology. Our adoption of anywhere working retains talented people even if they choose to move cities and become a full-time remote worker like my Director of Campaign Management did!

The key is that rewarding people shouldn’t be based on office hours, but measured on results and contribution, while encouraging them to find that same balance that you want to achieve as a leader. Providing more flexibility in work location without compromising on business results can help us cross the inequality chasm – a business opportunity from which all organisations can benefit.

[1] Women the Next Emerging Market  – EY.com, 2013

[2] Secrets to success of the ASX 300+ – KPMG, 2017

[3] The Changing World of Work – Polycom, 2017

[4] http://malechampionsofchange.com

[5] ABS Characteristics of Employment – Aug 2016

About Gabrielle Cichero

Gabrielle Cichero, Senior Director of Marketing at Polycom for Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ), has over 15 years of experience in marketing technology solutions and building brands across Asia Pacific. Based in Sydney, she is responsible for leading the company’s marketing strategy for APJ as well as driving demand generation and lead management.

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