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Why part-time work is an important diversity lever

By Belinda Morgan, Leadership Coash

Many people think of part-time work as a zero-sum game. They know there are benefits for the individuals who work part-time, including better life balance and improved wellbeing. But they assume it’s only downside and inconvenience for organisations. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Part-time work, done well, can drive hugely positive outcomes for organisations and for society.

Becoming a more inclusive employer

Employers who create and recruit for full-time roles only, are missing out on a hidden talent pool of highly qualified people who either can’t or choose not to work full-time. Given the talent shortages organisations everywhere are grappling with, this should be reason enough to look more closely at this vital form of workplace flexibility.

But there is even more at stake here. Organisations who continue to ignore or minimise the importance of part-time work are not only missing out on potential talent, they are also putting themselves at risk of not being fully inclusive.

People who seek out part-time roles can include workers who want to take a phased approach to retirement, people with disabilities that preclude them from working full-time, highly qualified professionals on visas that limit their work hours, students, those running businesses alongside their day jobs, and even professional athletes.

Creating more part-time roles can have an immediate impact on an organisation’s ability to hire and retain such diverse talent.

Shifting the dial on workplace gender equality

It’s also important to recognise that a very large percentage of those who work part-time in Australia are women. Whether we like it or not, women still shoulder the lion’s share of household and caring responsibilities in our society, and therefore require part-time work options at higher rates than men.

Data released by the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) in June this year shows that at every age and stage of their working lives, less than 50 of women are working full-time. Accordingly, the availability of part-time work has a big impact on gender equity in the workplace.

Australian employers looking to increase the ratio of women in their workforces need to start creating more part-time roles. This is the case at all levels and is particularly critical at senior levels.

The WGEA data highlighted while the majority women in Australia are working in part-time or casual roles, higher paid management opportunities are almost exclusively reserved for full-time workers. Addressing this mismatch, and adapting the structures in which women work, could be the thing that finally shifts the dial on increasing the ratio of women in senior and executive roles.

Improving representation at senior levels will also of course have positive implications for the gender pay gap, another serious long-term problem requiring some new and creative solutions after years of little to no progress being made.

Practical steps

While the ultimate goal is to create more part-time role options for those who need them, it’s important to get your part-time work systems and processes in order first.

Start by talking to your employees who currently work part-time about what is going well for them and what they would like to see changed. Common sticking points include roles not being properly re-scoped in line with their part-time hours, inequitable performance review and promotion processes, and managers not being provided with the skills to support part-time team members. Look at addressing these things alongside the opening up of more part-time roles.

When you are ready, the next step is to offer part-time work options to your existing workforce. This will be a powerful retention tool and differentiator in a hot talent market. You’ll likely be surprised at how many people would prefer to work part-time if it becomes an option that’s readily available and, importantly, encouraged.

The final step is to start offering part-time roles to external candidates. You can do this by creating roles that are part-time by design, or by advertising roles as ‘part-time possible’ and being ready to adapt the size of these roles to suit the needs of successful candidates.

Getting part-time work right is by no means simple. But it is absolutely possible, and for organsiations looking to attract and retain the best and most diverse talent it’s an opportunity that is there for the taking.

Belinda Morgan can be contacted via the website at www.belindamorgan.com

 

Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission. The views expressed therein are those of the author and not of Governance Institute of Australia. All views and opinions are provided as general commentary only and should not be relied upon in place of specific accounting, legal or other professional advice.

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