Workplace flexibility: Privilege or right?

What does the term really mean and how the conflicting roles of women reinforce the glass ceiling phenomenon in the workplace

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, flexibility has been seen as a particularly important parameter of labor relations and employment in general, both by employees and employers.

It is now increasingly self-evident that the regulation of working time should not always follow the traditional concept of working hours. At the same time, however, flexibility is often presented as a characteristic that is more relevant to women. For example, in a large insurance company based in Great Britain, it saw a 20% increase in women who applied for a job, in those ads where the terms such as “part-time work” or “flexible working hours” existed.

There is often the phenomenon that flexibility is seen as a counterweight to the many, systemic problems faced by women in the workplace. However, flexibility is not enough to eliminate stereotypes and perceptions of years, such as the pay gap between the two sexes, the bias in the work environment and the lack of women-executives in key positions of responsibility in a company.

Work-life balance

Many times in the world of work, the concept of flexibility has a limited scope, as the perception prevails that flexibility is to have the ability for an employee to work from home, to work 4 instead of 5 days or to work certain hours during the week.

In reality, however, flexibility at work concerns something much more essential, a redefinition of the employer-employee relationship with the ultimate goal of enabling the employee to shape his program according to his own priorities, always in a context of evaluating efficiency.

Also, flexibility cannot be the prerogative of specific social groups, but a right for the entire workforce of a company. The key to achieving this lies in cultivating a climate of trust between employer and employee that respects the needs of both sides and promotes a balance between personal time and work.

Flexibility and indirect gender bias

When discussing the concept of flexibility in the world of work in relation to gender, it is particularly crucial to avoid phenomena of indirect prejudice. It is a fact that the responsibility for the raising of children and the care of the elderly lies disproportionately with women, but by presenting the need for more flexibility at work, as an issue that concerns only women, it essentially feeds the stereotype itself.

Accordingly, the association of flexible working with part-time work and the many low-paid jobs that are constantly being created should be avoided.

Across the EU, female workers are 4 times more likely than men to be employed in part-time jobs. By interpreting flexibility as an opportunity to create more part-time jobs aimed at women, has the effect of reinforcing the phenomenon of the “glass ceiling” in the workplace.

To avoid this phenomenon, businesses need to redefine the concept of flexibility, making even the highest and well-paid positions more flexible. In this direction, the wider use of email exchange and remote work management platforms and of course the further utilization of the capabilities offered by the cloud to make the job much easier for a team, even if each member is in a different place and works at different times, helps. It is crucial, as the return to the physical space of the office after 2 years of the pandemic is constantly increasing, the new methods of hybrid work should not feed stereotypes and perceptions that undermine the role and progress of women in work.

“The steps that have been taken in terms of equal opportunities in the workplace are important, but the values that define the corporate culture of organizations should be strengthened and redefined, through an approach that focuses on equal and fair professional treatment between the two sexes. In order to apply flexibility to work in a fair and efficient way, concerted efforts are needed both from enterprises and employees, and from the state. As far as businesses are concerned, they should cultivate a climate of trust between employer and employee that respects the needs of each other and promotes the balance between personal time and work, without being the prerogative of specific social groups, but a right for all the people of the organization.”, said Konstantinos Mylonas, Cluster Head of the Adecco Group in Greece, Romania, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

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