Family commitments and career breaks are consistently reported as one of the three most significant barriers to career opportunities and progression across the APS.
However these barriers have not yet received due attention – and they continue to act as a deterrent to many talented women (and increasingly, men). Research through The May Group’s cultural audits shows that across many agencies, certain key factors are needed to ensure that the impact of family commitments is not detrimental to career progression and satisfaction, with those working part time and flexibly duly accommodated.
In parallel, many prominent private consulting firms have committed to and begun to successfully implement flexible working programs supported by leadership with the same goal in mind, which over the past two years I was able to experience myself.
Although the nature of consultancy naturally lends to a more flexible working practice, many prominent private consulting firms, with the notable examples of Accenture, EY and Deloitte; have committed to and successfully implemented flexible working programs that are readily accessed from leadership through to new graduate hires. Accenture CEO and Chairman Pierre Nanterme is vocal about the company’s commitment to diversity, inclusivity and gender equality, and actively promotes all Accenture leadership to access flexible working arrangements to set an example for employees.
During my own time at Accenture, I knew of more male leaders to take the full three months parental leave offered than I did female. It was particularly heartening to see these men move completely offline and immerse themselves in the full time experience of parenting, and then come back to work with newfound respect and appreciation for full-time parents, eager to discuss their experience with their teams.
Mark Smith, Managing Director ACN UK: “The company I work for, Accenture, has a very progressive Shared Parental Leave policy that allows for a maximum of 32 weeks leave on full pay…. the support I’ve had at work – which has come from the leadership down – means I don’t feel it will impact my career at all. And it’s shown me that more employers need to adopt progressive policies that reflect how society is changing. I realise that I’m extremely lucky to have this chance – not all companies are so brave with their approach. If more companies are as committed to SPL as Accenture is, the cultural shift towards sharing parental responsibilities for young children being the norm will happen far more quickly.”
When it came to flexible working options for all staff and not just parents, what I witnessed in the private sector was largely encouraging as well. Although working with public sector clients in Canberra meant that we were a little more restricted in our options than our peers in other cities and clients, the greater majority of my managers and the leadership I interacted with would work condensed weeks, or split their working week between locations in order to accommodate family. As they set this example I also found during my two years at Accenture that as long as the client allowed, management was always happy for me to arrange to work from home or another location if needed.
Comparatively, EY has recently made the noteworthy change of making coming into the office at all optional through their ‘Workplace’s of the Future’ program. EY Oceania talent leader McGregor Dixon: “There is nothing that holds you coming into the office…We are outcomes-focused as opposed to presenteeism-focused. There has been some need to have older managers change their mindset, but we have made it clear senior management needs to lead by example.” As flexible work arrangements become the default, Mr Dixon notes ‘there has been a significant mindset change; so that staff feel comfortable not having to be there every part of the day or week’.
Deloitte also extolls the benefits of flexible work arrangements, called ‘agile’ within the company. Deloitte’s agile working programme is available to all employees with the aim to have it embedded in the culture of the organisation. Lorraine Bellenger, Deloitte UK; “[Agility is] much more accepted across the organisation now – partners also work in an agile manner, so are much more understanding about your arrangements. It’s not just about working mothers – there’s a demand across the organisation.”
In order to implement the broad cultural shift that is needed within the public sector to better accommodate flexibility, part-time and parental leave; leadership and the most senior positions must set a strong example, as I witnessed in private consulting firms. Ingrained mindsets across the public and private sectors will only shift with this leadership, so that this cultural change has a lasting and powerful effect, embedded within organisations.