Flexibility in the Workplace Can Help Keep More Women in the Workforce
Studies show an equal number of women in the workplace and in management has a direct correlation to the success of the organization. Meaning: when there’s a gender balance, a company is much more likely to succeed and report higher revenue.
Women play a clear role when it comes to prosperous workplaces.
So, why is labour force participation in Canada lower for women than men? With an eight per cent gap, this means there are there 1.3 million less women than men working. According to Emna Braham, senior economist at the Labour Market Information Council in Ottawa, this is a huge problem. “Given that women represent 57 per cent of all people graduating from university — according to Statistics Canada data from 2016, the most recent year available — their absence removes a highly educated cohort from the labour market at a time when there's a shortage of skilled workers.”
So, what’s going on? A large part of the puzzle relates to the lack of flexibility and support for moms in the workplace. When women come back from maternity leave and are expected to keep up with strict working schedules, with little room for dealing with things like family commitments, sick children or elder parents, we inevitably end up losing a large chunk of women in the workforce. A lack of affordable, quality child care as well as proper care for elderly parents can also play a role in a women’s decision to stay home.
This can easily change though. Providing employees the flexibility they need has been shown to not only boost morale and production, but also helps companies retain employees and fosters better relationships between employers and their staff.
Flexibility in the workplace can mean many things, including part-time or off-peak hours work, the ability to work remotely, contract work, ample sick days, and flexibility with dropping off or picking up kids. Offering more than the traditional standard of a 9-5 workday can help employers attract and keep female employers.
Flex work plays a key role in addressing many of the newer realities in not only the workplace but also society and the overall economy. For employees, especially those with families, it helps them manage the competing demands of paid work and their family as well as other personal responsibilities. On the other end, employers also benefit by promoting productive and support work environments that enable them to attract and keep needed talent. Even the Government of Canada is committed to supporting federal workers in their request for flexible work arrangements. The federal task force on affordable, quality care – universal child care – and fair pay for care workers can also make a massive difference on women in the workforce as well as families. Evidence shows that universal child care actually pays for itself. “More women in the workforce also means more people paying income taxes and money in the economy” (Ostroff, CBC). We’ve seen universal child care working in Quebec – we know it works – and it can be the single best way to reduce the gender employment gap, according to a 2017 StatsCan report.
Recent bills, such as the Domestic Violence Leave policies that many provinces have enacted, also go a long way in helping support women in the workplace and ensuring they feel safe and protected. The Canadian Labour Council is also drawing attention to the gender inequality in the workplace, including the call for livable wages and adequate support to balance work, family and personal time. These issues are not a luxury, they are a right.
The tides are turning, and it’s a good thing.
Interestingly, the benefits of flexibility and support for moms in the workplace in turn ends up benefiting everyone. When there’s flexibility in the workplace, studies have shown that women are more likely to stay with a company as well as grow and be strong contributors to the organization. Labour market experts agree, saying that flexible workplace policies across the board - regardless even of gender or family status - are a key part of stopping the economy from hemorrhaging qualified female workers. And from an economic standpoint, more women in the workforce means more people contributing to the workforce. There’s also proof that companies with the highest representation of women in the boardroom tend to experience better financial performance than those without female representation.
Flexibility in the workforce is a win-win for everyone.
As an employer or an employee, there are many things you can either do to help instill more flexibility, or changes you can help lobby for in the workplace, including:
- Flex hours
- Option to work remotely
- Time off when needed
- Part-time work options
- Policies in place that support women, including domestic violence policies
Once we realize the importance of providing workplace environments and options that work for everyone, we can start to see the many benefits, including more working moms and women in the workplace, as well as happier, more productive workers.
Offering flexibility in the workplace is not just a women’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue.