Balance For Better

#BalanceForBetter this International Women’s Day

Changing the way we work to #BalanceForBetter

From Dame Stephanie Shirley changing her name to Steve to get responses to the sales letters she sent to prospective clients of her first business to Sheryl Sandberg telling women to “Lean In” and “conform to the corporate norm and adopt the aggressive and domineering style men have used for generations to ascend the ranks” (USA Today) women have, in many cases, had to emulate male behaviour traits in order to succeed at work.

And if they haven’t adopted the management style of their male colleagues, then they have often had to tolerate wildly inappropriate behaviour and language in the workplace of which we hear many examples from our friends and colleagues.

Our gender imbalance

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie references in her We Should All Be Feminists TED talk, “the late Kenyan Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai put it simply and well when she said ‘The higher you go, the fewer women there are.'”  When you are in the minority at the decision-making levels then it is difficult to effectuate change. In Laura Bates’ book Everyday Sexism, following on from her online project of the same name, she interviews Stella Creasy MP who calls the UK the “80-20 society”.  In every sector of our society at the leadership level there are roughly 20% of women “in TV, the judiciary, in academia…women on boards.”

A huge reason for this is that women drop out of their careers to have children just as they are establishing themselves in leadership positions. Our traditional work model is built on the premise that one person in a parenting couple stays at home to look after the children and it is still, despite Shared Parenting legislation, more socially acceptable for that to be the woman.

How we are challenging the traditional work model at Business Clan

Delia Porter founded Business Clan when she was looking for a way to return to work after getting her son off to school using the skills and experience she had built up over her 20 year career prior to becoming a parent. She realised there was a gap in the market for a one-stop-shop for SMEs supported by a team of professionals with key expertise and the ability to implement across business strategy, HR, web design, IT, accountancy, bookkeeping, commercial contracts and marketing. She knew that there was a talent pool of women like herself with decades of experience who had fallen off the corporate ladder when they had become parents and offered them flexible, local work around family life.

We all work flexibly at Business Clan. We don’t mind when or where the work is done as long as it is completed to deadline and to the high standards we expect for our clients. There are times when the team are required to be in the office – for company, team or client meetings – but we are proof that 9 to 5 presenteeism can become a thing of the past. We are celebrating five years in business next month; we have worked with over 200 clients; we have won six awards – two of which are national – and we are expanding from our home in South-West London into North London and Essex.

The way we work is changing

It is possible to work flexibly. We all have mobile phones, laptops and everything we need to access is in the cloud. We can work from almost anywhere, at anytime. The conversation about flexible working has got louder in the years since we launched Business Clan. Just look at the questions being asked and answered on the Facebook group Flexible Working For People Like Me or notice how many more Dads are doing the school run than there were 10 years ago.

The business case for flexible working

Flexible working can and does work. Not just for the employee requesting it, but for the employer too. A recent survey by Vodafone highlighted that 83% of global companies offering flexible working improved their productivity; 58% said it had boosted their reputation; and 61% said that flexible working had a direct effect on their profit and loss statement by increasing their company’s earnings.

Last month’s FSB report “Small Business, Big Heart” found of those members offering flexible working the majority (71%) recognise the consequential benefits this has had on their business including the reduction of staff absences, the creation of new business processes and additional business cost savings.

Flexible working: The Law

Every employee has the right to request flexible working, and for that request to be considered reasonably. The request must be submitted in writing, and a meeting held to discuss the request at the earliest opportunity. The request must be responded to, in writing, within three months. The employer has the right to refuse that request, but solid business grounds are required and reasons must be given. These must fall into one of the following categories:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to the business

Employees may only make one request within a twelve-month period. You may both agree a trial period to make sure that the new arrangements are working.

What can we all do to bring about change?

We need to make flexible working the norm. Not just for mothers – for everyone. Flexibility means different things to different people. It can mean working full time, but from home or office-based with a later start time or early finish. It might be job sharing, term time only working or any other form of flexible arrangement. The much maligned millennials aren’t driven by the same motivators that their parents and grandparents were: they want a better work/life balance, so as they start to work their way up the career ladder now is a great opportunity to change things. If careers begin with flexible working then the transition to shared parenting won’t be so much of a jump.

To watch Nicolle’s International Women’s Day talk in full head to our Facebook page.

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