Flexible Work – what part do our biases play?

The following article is authored by Helena Kuo, Partner, En Masse.  En Masse is a founding supporter of Flexible Working Day.

The Fair Work Act 2009 provides that employees have a right to request a flexible work arrangement and employers must respond.  As a result flexible work arrangement policies essential part of an organisation’s HR polices and often forms part of their talent attraction and retention strategies.  We might expect to see increasing numbers of women in more senior levels, however sadly this is not the case.  The proportion of women CEO’s is still hovering around 16%1.  The number of senior women in the ASX 200 actually fell in 20172.

However the data doesn’t reflect the reality, but why is this the case?  What else is happening when there is much support to help women progress to senior levels? One reason might be because the decisions that are made about the progress of women to senior levels is influenced more strongly by our assumptions about gender and working flexibly than we admit.

Our assumptions and unconscious biases about women working flexibly and being serious about their careers may benefit from challenging ourselves on how we make decisions, are the same people making the decisions about career paths for women, and do their biases unconsciously inform robust decisions that are made on merit.  Or, is it that we still believe that women who work flexibly cannot be serious about their career. 

This Flexible Working Day let's challenge our assumptions about men who work flexibly, and recognise the negative judgment (based on our biases) that if they work flexibly it may be a career limiting move for them.  Being aware of how our biases influence our decisions must be key to both men and women being able to work flexibly and achieve their career aspirations.

Source: 1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016;,  2http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-08/fewer-women-ceos-than-men-named-john/8327938