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The Future of Work: will flexible working help close the gender gap?

There is a strong case for gender diversity in leadership teams as it leads to increased innovation, creativity, profitability and business success. So why is it that progress towards gender equality in the workplace, particularly in leadership positions, remains so slow? In Western Europe, only 17 percent of executive-committee members are women, while in middle management only 30 per cent of roles are held by women. The salary gap has widened as well. In the US, newly graduated men receive, on average, a salary that is $17,000 more than women and after a further ten years that gap has increased by an average of more than $150,000.

Why do women earn so much less than men?

Much of it can be accounted for by differences in working hours, career breaks and, according to professor Linda Gratton, author of the bestseller “The 100-year life”, a different value being placed on the characteristics of work. Candidate selection can depend on a number of different factors including: whether the role has significant time pressures, whether there is autonomy regarding presence in the office, is there scheduling flexibility, are regular team meetings required and does the job require a unique skill or could someone else easily perform the same task.

Take a senior leadership role for instance. There are time pressures, regular management team meetings to agree on important business decisions, limited opportunities for substitution and hectic daily schedules with calls and meetings often starting early in the morning and running late into the evening, particularly when working for a global organization.

Increasing work flexibility and autonomy results in decreased remuneration

If you’re not available at times when a client or colleague needs you, your value to the company starts to decline. Intangible assets such as knowledge and expertise, may begin to erode if you are not in the office regularly to interact with colleagues. If you are not present, you will be excluded from plans that are formed or ideas that are shared around the watercooler.

Men, on average, tend to work longer hours and earn more, whilst women choose flexibility and reduced working hours, often for family reasons. Studies show that when men choose to reduce their work hours, they experience a similar flexibility stigma that reduces their income and limits career opportunities.

The future of work – changing patterns

In the future we will see a change in our working patterns as automation results in fewer employees being required in traditional roles as well as fewer opportunities for and less reliance on full-time jobs. The gig economy in which temporary positions become the norm with organizations contracting independent workers for short-term engagements, together with easier access to a global workforce will further contribute to a more flexible approach to work.

Baby boomers grew up with a ‘job for life’ certainty that is certainly no longer the case for Gen Y and Millennials today. Multiple careers and lifelong learning are fast becoming the norm, whereby men and women take time out to develop new skills through work and training. This often means reduced earnings during the period of learning in order to take the next step in their careers.

Taking time out to care for family members (young and old) will also become increasingly common with the carer role assumed by both men and women. The Global Generations survey from EY,  found that the traditional 40-hour working week is becoming obsolete and one-third of employees reported that managing their personal and professional lives has become more difficult. Millennials in the EY study reported facing greater responsibility at home and at work as managerial duties squared off against caregiving.

In the next few years we will see a disruptive redesign of the nature of work, where increased flexibility will become the norm for both men and women. It will enable a more level playing field, helping to reduce the gender gap and create more diverse leadership teams in the future.

About Marianne Hewlett

Marianne Hewlett is a Senior Vice President at Atos and a seasoned marketeer and communications expert. Passionate about connecting people, technology and business, she is a member of the Atos Scientific Community where she explores the Future of Work and the impact of technology on individuals, organizations and society. She is a strong ambassador for diversity and inclusivity – and particularly encourages female talent to pursue a career in IT – as she believes a diverse and happy workforce is a key driver for business success. As an ambassador for the company’s global transformation program Wellbeing@work, she explores new technologies and ways of working that address the needs of current and future generations of employees. A storyteller at heart, she writes about the human side of business and technology and posts include insights into the future of work, the science of happiness, and how wellbeing and diversity can drive success.