As we approach International Women’s Day, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the workplace practices that have helped us move closer to gender parity and enabled women to fully thrive in their careers. Flexibility, particularly technology-enabled flexibility, is a key one of these – allowing a work-life balance, or work-life blend, that was impossible before laptops and the internet.
When we think of flexible working, we tend to think of working mothers juggling part-time jobs with childcare. But the benefits of flexible working go well beyond women with children – studies have shown that enabling flexible workplace practices makes employees more productive and more likely to advocate for their employer. It also gives them an improved sense of wellbeing and helps them deliver better results. That’s why the Law Council is “committed to assisting members of the legal profession to reach their full potential through flexible workplace practices.”[i]
Flexible work practices come in all shapes and forms, including changes to hours of work (different start and finish times), patterns of work (like part-time work, split shifts, job-sharing, a staggered return to work or less-than-ten-day fortnights), or locations of work (like working from home).
Last October, Mercer’s Global Parental Leave Report[ii] suggested that one of the most powerful steps an organisation can take to improve gender equality at work, after a having strong maternal leave policy, is to implement a paternal and parental leave policy. Through policy, and by embedding flexibility within the culture of an organisation, fathers can mix work and childcare too. According to Mercer, this improves the overall health and wellbeing of all employees and their families. It’s also a demonstration of an organisation’s commitment to eliminating barriers to gender equality.
The Australian Workplace Relations Study Data Centre collects information about flexible working, and in the two years to 2014, 33.6% of women and 20.6% of men surveyed had requested flexible working arrangements.[iii] So while the demand amongst female workers is higher, the gap in demand between males and females isn’t huge. Overcoming the negative perceptions of men working flexibly is critical to successfully fostering a flexible working culture within an organisation – and driving gender parity.[iv] Having leaders set the example is a powerful way of achieving that goal.
Many studies have shown that flexibility is one of the most important factors for millennials in choosing an employer, and most organisations’ employee engagement surveys would support this across other age groups. Flexibility really isn’t a gender issue, or an age one. It’s a workplace issue. In an environment where attracting and retaining the best people is fundamental to an organisation’s success, flexible work is likely to become standard for all employees in all roles.
Since 1 December 2018 modern awards have included new rules about flexibility, including that requests by employees for flexible working arrangements can only be refused by employers on reasonable business grounds.[v] It’s too early to tell whether there’ll be a spike in applications, or what the knock-on effects will be, but the regulatory change is indicative of our current societal expectations that no one should be conflicted between their work and personal commitments.
Companies like Orbit are enabling flexibility in other ways as well. Contracting provides you with the opportunity to take assignments when and where you’d like them, so you’re not just enjoying flexible working arrangements – you’re also building a flexible career.
The reasons for wanting this are endless and can range from taking time off over the school holidays, to finishing the house renovations or undertaking a month-long charity bike ride in the Alps. Time invested in personal pursuits increases our mental and physical health, and wellbeing. Flexibility also helps lawyers give back to their community, which is an important part of professional responsibility.
If you choose a flexible career, rather than just a flexible job, you can take recurrent breaks when you need them to focus on your priorities. Which is not always possible even with the most flexible of in-house or legal firm employers.
We have opportunities available for exceptional lawyers with 5+ PQE. You must be established as an ILP or sole practitioner, carry an unrestricted practising certificate and have PI insurance. Email or call Greg for a confidential conversation on how legal contracting can work for you.
Head of Orbit
Phone: +61 3 9672 3187