Australia is a fascinating place to live. On one hand, we have a slew of government policies that support workers to negotiate flexible working arrangements, and on the other, a range of studies highlighting the negative stigma associated with working flexibly.

Did you know that in Australia, you have the right to request flexible working if you have been working with your employer for 12 months (even casually) and are: a parent (not just a mother) to a child school-aged or younger, a carer, have a disability, are 55 or older, are experiencing family or domestic violence, or are supporting/caring for an immediate family member experiencing family or domestic violence?

You can request changes to work hours, your patterns of work and your location.

So why isn’t flexibility mainstream in Australia?

We have a perception problem

My company, Career Inside Track, conducted the study Flexible working, what’s working and what’s not? to find out why. We found flexibility was the most important influencer on career choice for respondents, ahead of remuneration and career progression. Let that sink in for a moment. Workers want flexibility over a high income.

Shouldn’t that be good news–great news–to organisations everywhere?!

Yet, we found perceived negativity of working flexibly was greatly felt. Men were more likely to feel they could not perform their role flexibly, while women, despite holding more flexible roles, felt guilty working flexibly. One respondent reflected, “There’s a strong bias against flexible workers, that others have to ‘pick up the slack’”.

Another survey conducted by Bain & Co and Chief Executive Women, found 60 percent of males would be open to working flexibly, but were twice as likely to have requests for flexible work rejected.

How disappointing! It certainly highlights the work we need to do in this space.

Let’s celebrate working flexibly!

Which is why I decided to bring Flexible Working Day to Australia, launching this week on Wednesday June 21.

Our aim is to:

  • promote a discussion between employees and employers on flexible working arrangements for everyone and for any reason;
  • to change negative mindsets–of individuals and organisations;
  • celebrate the organisations doing it well;
  • ensure flexibility becomes mainstream; and
  • advocate for greater policies that support flexibility.

It’s a big task. But it’s important.

Already we’ve seen a number of Flexible Working Day Ambassadors jump on board. Women, men, athletes, CEOs, small business owners, TV presenters, UN board members–incredible people, passionate about seeing flexible working become mainstream in Australia. People like Tom Faulkner, who is a professional sportsman and property development specialist, who is passionate about flexibility because it has enabled him to pursue his professional aspirations in property whilst preparing to compete at the highest levels of his sport, beach volleyball. People like Tracey Spicer, who is an author, journalist and TV presenter, who is passionate about flexible working because it’s the ideal way for men to be more hands-on in caring roles, while allowing women to truly take their place in the modern workforce. Their voices are so important and worth celebrating!

And of course there are many fantastic organisations already making a difference. Organizations like the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Lisa Green, group executive of human resources for the ASX, notes in the Huffington Post, “Our system is designed to assume all employees are eligible for flexible work arrangements. We’ve reversed the burden of proof—the assumption is that if they ask for flexibility, they get it. If there is a situation where flexibility has been declined..

[the CEO] wants to be personally briefed.” And organisations like Medibank, which calls out on their website, “At Medibank, our purpose is: For Better Health. To live this purpose, we embrace a healthier way of working by providing employees with flexibility in how and where they conduct their work.”

The future looks promising

It’s our hope that through Flexible Working Day, the perceived negative connotations of working flexible will be reversed and a greater uptake of flexible arrangements will occur across Australia. Because #FlexWorkFullLife should be celebrated!

Join us on Wednesday at #FWDay2017 and #TackleFlexism together.

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