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Flexibility: A Top Value for Technical Women and Men by Caroline Simard, Director of Research

In my last blog post, I highlighted the different family configurations between men and women working in high-technology – namely, 82% of technical women report that their partner works full time, compared to 37% of technical men, and a majority of women are partnered with someone working in high-tech as well.  

In my last blog post, I highlighted the different family configurations
between men and women working in high-technology – namely, 82% of technical women
report that their partner works full time, compared to 37% of technical men,
and a majority of women are partnered with someone working in high-tech as
well.

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This creates the need for flexibility. Now, “flexibility” is
probably one of the most over-used buzz words when it comes to talking about the
retention of women in US corporations. It is thrown around a lot, and yet ill
defined. It is often used in the context of “flexible work” to refer to
part-time work arrangements, and usually it is thrown around as a solution for “work-life
balance” specifically for women. It is often viewed as a “special arrangement” or
a “perk,” a concession that a company makes for an employee.  However, we are doing ourselves a disservice
by framing flexibility as a women’s issue and an exceptional “perk.”

 

Would you build an inflexible technology system? Consider
the following engineering definition  of flexibility from
Wikipedia.

 

“In the context
of engineering design one can define flexibility as the ability of a system to respond to potential internal or external
changes affecting its value delivery, in a timely and cost-effective manner
.
Thus, flexibility for an engineering system is the ease with which the system
can respond to uncertainty in a manner
to sustain or increase its value delivery
. It should be noted that
uncertainty is a key element in the definition of flexibility.

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Where flexibility is necessary to the success of technology systems,
it is necessary to the success of human systems:

 

  1. There
    is ongoing and significant uncertainty built in any human system (just
    like engineering systems), leading to all employees experiencing variable
    demands on their time from their families – in the form of sickness, closed
    schools, spousal travel, elderly parents, divorce, sick children, etc.
  2. In
    order to deliver technology products and services and maximize return on
    investment for the company, managers must build in flexibility in the way
    they allocate the workflow of their employees.
  3. This
    flexibility will enable teams to respond to uncertainty and meet their business
    goals.
  4. Since
    technical employees deeply care about flexibility, our organization will be
    able to attract and retain top talent.

 

Flexibility is a business imperative that has been
demonstrated to positively impact the bottom line:

         
Recruitment and Retention benefits

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o       Our
own Research
shows that 78% of technical men and 83% rate flexibility as very or highly
important to them, second only to the basics of healthcare and financial rewards.
Companies that take flexibility seriously will thus be able to attract and
retain technical talent.   

         
Other case studies have shows that flexibility increases
retention – for example, IBM, in a global survey of 42,000 employees, found that
flexibility is a top contributor to retention. Difficulties around work-life balance
were found to be the second top reason for intending to leave the company
(again, only second to dissatisfaction around financial rewards)

 

         
Reduced absenteeism

One
study of flexible work practices by researchers Dalton and Mesch in Administrative Science
Quarterly found that the introduction of flexible schedules led to higher
employee satisfaction and reduced absenteeism. When the organization removed
the flexibility schedules, absenteeism and satisfaction rates went back to what
they were before.

 

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Flexibility is a two-way street: global human capital
management

Globalization is putting increased demands on today’s
workforce for shifting and unpredictable schedules, and an appropriate
implementation of flexible practices is critical to companies’ ability to meet these
new demands. In The Global
Human Capital Study
, CEOs defined “adaptability” as a critical feature of the
new human capital model. Companies that can quickly deploy talent with the
right skills to specific problems need workers who are adaptable and flexible –
and this flexibility mindset needs to be reflected in organizational practices.

 

While flexibility practices take many forms, such as part-time
options, compressed work weeks, telecommuting, or the newer on-ramps and
offramps, a company doesn’t need to implement complex changes to experience the
wins of flexibility. Incorporating a flexibility “mindset” can be very effective
even if informally. Some critical components of fostering a flexibility mindset
include:

 

         
Integrate flexibility with business strategy – consider
which projects, times, or tasks are conducive to flexibility.

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Understanding how flexibility is valued by your
employees – understanding employee needs around flexibility is critical to implementing
the right solution.

         
Executive buy-in and modeling – in order to send a
signal that formal or informal flexibility is an accepted business practice, executives
need to engage in it where possible.

         
Making sure evaluation and promotion practices are
aligned with flexibility mindset – this requires ensuring that there is no evaluation
penalty associated with flexibility.

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