Will 2021 Be It’s Year?
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life, for me, and I’m feeling….
Well, I’m not sure what I’m feeling if I’m honest. It may be 2021 but in many ways we have hit rock bottom. As I write this, we have the highest number of Covid cases the UK has seen, school closures, talk of hospitals being at breaking point, not to mention Brexit and what this truly means for the economy.
But what has this all got to do with Diversity & Inclusion and Flexible Working I hear you ask?
Now we are living in a world we would never have imagined 12 months ago. Now is the time flex for all MUST be embraced. It is the only way to ensure nobody (employees and organisations themselves) are not left behind.
D&I and Flexibility cannot be exclusive of one another
There are a plethora of reasons an employee may need to work flexibly – all of which boil down to Diversity & Inclusion. Parental responsibility of course is the most common. More often than not this has sat, in the majority of traditional families, in the mothers lap. But Covid has opened the doors – and eyes of fathers – that the option for flexibility should also be available to them. But it shouldn’t just be about the parents – what about those with other caring responsibilities; physical or mental health conditions; the desire to avoid unproductive and exhausting long commutes, or for a better work-life balance; those with outside interests … Until flex for all is embraced, there will continue to be a stigma attached to requests from mothers.
Breaking flex barriers
Before Covid, many organisations simply stated “It won’t work”, or other such “convincing” reasons for not embracing flexible working. To me, this really means “we haven’t ever done it, we’re scared everyone will want it (would that be such a terrible thing?) and we will lose control. We are not sure we fully trust our employees and we are assuming the world will fall apart”.
As a Coach, one thing I know – that has been proven multiple times over the last nine months – is often assumptions do not equate to reality. The “it just wouldn’t work” mantra was shattered as soon as, almost the entire world, were forced to work remotely. So surely now, shouldn’t we have arrived at a place where Flexibility (or what I like to think of as Smart Working) is the norm, not a special request?
This does not mean everyone working remotely 100% of the time. It means being agile – to be face-to-face (when needed and able again) and remote. Being available for core hours, but not a rigid working day. In fact, I would go as far as to say implementing enforced hybrid working to remove any possible imbalance or resulting two-tier (we are all sick of tiers let’s face it!) system or presenteeism culture. To get the work done to the expected level – to achieve organisational goals in a way that can accommodate life.
There May Be Trouble Ahead
I do have a concern however. Covid-related “flexibility” has been forced, was never intended for the long-term. Happening overnight it was unlikely part of organisational strategy. It has been accompanied by the extreme stress of the pandemic and home-schooling. It hasn’t provided flexibility to embrace Diversity & Inclusion.
Organisations now have a real opportunity to take what has been learnt. Rolling key takeaways into their long term D&I and flexibility strategy. If not, we are in danger of the negatives tipping the balance to apparently demonstrate “we were right – it doesn’t work”. People feel isolated. We have Zoom fatigue. Work and home-life boundaries have been blurred. Well-being is therefore being negatively impacted. It would be dangerous to correlate these negative outcomes with “flex working”. Flexible working it isn’t. It is a sticking plaster to keep businesses and employees afloat and hanging by a thread.
Take the best of a bad situation
So now is the time to understand what has worked.
- What balance do we need?
- Can organisations and employees both gain benefits from a real flex for all strategy?
- What do we want it to look like when we are out of the other side (which we will be eventually)?
Too often D&I, Coaching investment and other such projects are shelved during tough times as they are not “priority”. But D&I and Flex should now be of key focus so the models that will truly work. The best of BC (Before Covid) and AC (you guessed it – after Covid!) can be embraced – for everyone.
Until it is modelled for everyone, parents – particularly mums – will still be the special case. It is sadly a fact that women, due to the flexible requirements so often falling to them, have been the biggest casualties of Covid. A study by IFS found 47% of mothers were more likely to have lost their jobs and felt the need to quit than fathers. Mums are so often viewed as “the part-timer”. The one feeling anxious about how and when to have that conversation. Worrying about any repercussions. When we are all treated equally none of that ever needs to happen. And for those that are not parents, who also need, or simply want, flexibility, they will no longer feel resentful. Retention and engagement would almost definitely increase along with productivity. As Boston Consulting Group found, a direct positive impact to the bottom line due to innovation from diverse leadership.
Let the leaders lead with flexible working, diversity and inclusion
Of course this cannot just be about writing a policy and hoping for the best. D&I must be engrained in Flexibility and bred into an organisations culture and leadership behaviour. 2021 truly feels like the right time for D&I to be the phoenix rising from the ashes. It most definitely is not the time for it to die as a result of the pandemic, along with so many other Covid casualties.
Rebecca Amin is a Career Coach helping parents feeling stuck in their careers, find their paths back to career happiness. Find her via her website www.rebeccaamincoaching.co.uk; Facebook Page and Facebook Group, Career Happy Mums.
You may also want to read about ‘The Gender Imapct of Covid-19’