A common excuse for lack of women in leadership is that many potential female leaders choose not to return to their roles following the birth of a child — so we can’t promote women if they have taken themselves out of the leadership pipeline.
If you flip the argument for a minute and ask yourself how you are going to attract and retain the best people as leaders and senior managers, as I did, then you will inevitably find yourself enabling flexible work arrangements, as I have done.
My approach to my leadership team was to find the best people that the budget would allow. As a result of starting with the people, and working with them on mutually agreeable conditions, six of the most senior people in the company, including two editors, are women who have returned to work part-time following maternity leave. The other four women lead the finance, marketing, editorial and HR functions. As well, there are a number of women within departments across the business who work part-time. Our entire finance department, for example, is female and all work part-time.
In a very short space of time we have proven that flexibility attracts the very best talent and that with careful planning and consideration it is possible to retain quality female leaders once they start a family.
The key considerations are as follows:
- Manage expectations about what can be achieved in a shortened working week. It doesn’t work for anyone if a part-time worker feels that there is an expectation of 24/7 availability. I often email interesting articles I have found to my team on the weekends (in case I can’t locate them again on Monday morning) but make it clear that the receiver isn’t expected to read or respond before the first day of their working week.
- Be flexible within the flexibility. Every one of Private Media’s part-timers works a flexible arrangement that best suits their needs, which are often shaped around childcare. One works four shorter days, another works three full days and two half days, while others work the equivalent hours of 2-4 days across 2-5 days.
- Ensure the days worked also match the business needs. If all of the women in the finance department wanted to work the same three or four days, for example, the impact on the efficient and effective functioning of the business could be negative. So while it’s important for staff retention and happiness that the business is flexible to their needs, it is equally important to determine if the flexibility is a fit with the business.
Do you have a success story to share on flexible working arrangements for leaders or potential leaders?