Over six million UK women work part-time – some even reaching the heady heights of senior management, although numbers drop off sharply at this level. However, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, only a small handful of them work in HR. Once again the topic of working less than full-time has been raised in an HR group discussion on a social networking site, and the number of respondents (mainly women) declaring they would like a part-time HR role but are unable to find one is slowly rising. I’m wondering why it’s so difficult.
The benefits of flexible and reduced hours working are regularly repeated in media articles aimed at both the HR profession and the wider business community. The Women’s Business Council and the TUC are calling for better quality (more senior) part-time roles to make the most of precious talent unable to work fixed, full-time schedules. And our colleagues in IT and FM are increasingly talking about Agile Working as a means of harnessing technology and reducing expensive office costs.
Yet judging by the questions posted in the CIPD Communities, it seems flexible working is nothing more than a nuisance to most HR people, who appear more concerned with following legal procedure – even where the decision is a foregone “no” – than in persuading managers of the imperative to accommodate the growing expectations of both Generations X and Y when it comes to work-life balance.
So maybe it’s not surprising there’s such a lack of opportunity for flexible working within the HR function – but it does represent a shocking waste of qualified and highly trained talent. What’s even more worrying is the broader context of the debate about getting women into boardrooms. The vast majority of CIPD members are female. If we cannot support the careers of our own colleagues, how can we expect to persuade our employers to embrace flexible working for more senior women in other functions?
In my clients who engage with flexible working they tend to get the best people. Those who return to working following the gap for starting a family really appreciate the flexibility and if anything put more effort in when they are at work, but that’s just my observation. (Not that’s starting a family is anything less than what we traditionally mean by work.) Reference article in CIPD www.cipd.co.uk