Guarding against negative impacts of flexible work
There is concern that a move to flexible working, if not done properly, may actually result in negative consequences for women. There is a concern that working from home may prompt them to take on more domestic or caring responsibilities, which could harm their progression.
Sinead Donovan comments: “We need to have a note of caution when we speak about working from home being positive for women. There could be an implication that when people and organisations say it’s good for women that they can work from home, this could imply it’s because they can carry out caring and domestic tasks more easily. Particularly if women are taking on CEO and CIO roles, and working from home, there needs to be a culture in place to ensure boundaries are set and women are supported.”
Katerina Koulouri adds: “Working from home can feel like you’re doing two jobs at once. While it certainly gives an opportunity for more balance between work and home life, and can bring the best of both worlds, it’s essential for women’s progression that the two elements don’t become blurred.”
The virtual door is open
Increased hybrid, home and flexible working led businesses to adopt a host of new or improved initiatives to ensure employee engagement and inclusion. Prompted by the challenges of the pandemic, business leaders were quick to act and take action to create an environment where colleagues can speak up with ideas, issues and questions, and encouraged or maintained an open door policy among middle and / or senior management.
The ways of working during the pandemic provided new methods of adopting these types of initiatives, with virtual townhalls and coffee meetings providing visibility and in some cases, direct access to senior management. This openness and willingness to implement new measures must continue.
The impact of all these measures does, however, need careful monitoring and evaluation – the actions businesses took in 2022 to ensure employee engagement and inclusion were not always the measures which led to the highest levels of women in senior leadership. Paying careful attention to employees’ working styles and adapting approaches accordingly is something which only 38% of businesses did but this action, among those we analysed, correlates with the highest level of women in senior leadership – 35%.
Said Jahani comments: “At Grant Thornton Australia, we have a Gender Equality network, which is a group that provides understanding and support across the organisation. Initiatives like this are essential to boosting the number of women in senior leadership as they create a culture of what we term psychological safety – an environment where everyone can speak up on ideas and issues.”
Strategies for developing future leaders
In terms of strategies for succession planning, our research shows that at least 95% of businesses adopted at least one of the suggested strategies to attract and retain future leaders. One third (33%) adopted a strategy to ‘Ensure clarity and equal opportunity around leadership roles’.
Other businesses chose to focus on implementing strong wellbeing training and / or support programmes, selected by 29% of mid-market firms. Businesses saw these two sets of actions as mutually exclusive, but among Grant Thornton leaders around the world, a combination of both was felt to be the most successful way of attracting and retaining future leaders.
Devika Dixit comments: “I think the two types of strategy go hand in hand. Focusing on one or the other would not really lead to proper representation and development of senior leadership. Wellness and support programmes have become increasingly important post-COVID and we have seen a rise in the number of firms adopting these programmes. But, clarity and equal opportunity in terms of leadership roles is also crucial.”
Vivian Lagan adds: “We’ve seen a lot of investment in mid-market business in terms of setting up and establishing things like mentoring programmes. Where these initiatives are most successful at pulling women through into senior leadership positions is when the programme focuses on developing the tools to address perceived or real blockers and there is a really clear vision of how being part of that particular programme will benefit their progress.”
Getting these strategies right is more important than ever. The ‘Great Resignation’ has put pressure on skills. Employers must offer a compelling proposition to future leaders if they want them to stay or join from other firms.[i]