Flexibility: the answer to retaining talented female leaders

It’s International Flexible Working Day on May 22, and Parents At Work CEO Emma Walsh interviewed the day’s founder, Vanessa Vanderhoek, on how the day was created and why her advocacy behind flexible working is so important.

Vanessa started Flexible Working Day three years ago, as a day ‘to showcase and celebrate the benefits of flexibility, both for individuals and businesses’.

In 2017, Vanessa was working with a large organisation that had the typical problem of not being able to retain female talent in leadership.

‘We started digging deeper,’ Vanessa says. ‘And we had the hypothesis that it was due to the inadequate levels of flexibility [in the organisation]’.

From this, Vanessa felt a need for a national day to showcase examples of flexibility, and to address the common issue of ‘flexism’ in many organisations and in society – to tackle the negative or outdated perceptions of flexibility that have existed in past decades.

Since its creation three years ago, the day has gone from national to global, and now reaches millions around the world in more than 60 countries, with the use of social media.

‘It’s a very emotive and visual campaign,’ Vanessa says. ‘On the day, people share stories and image on their social media … and then others share the content they see’.

Vanessa believes that the conversation around flexibility has shifted dramatically in recent years.

‘It used to just be an ‘employee entitlement’ but now is more a global conversation around the future of work’, she says.

But the conversation still needs many more voices and much more involvement. There is still a gender gap when it comes to flexibility, with many still viewing it as a woman’s issue and outside the realm of men. So what can be done to normalise flexible work for both women and men?

‘The number one factor is leadership’, Vanessa says. ‘Whether in local community, or business – people sharing their story allows that psychological safety to build that ‘this is what works’.

‘Hearing each other’s stories – sometimes that is enough to [give people] a nudge, to say ‘you know what, I’m going to give it a go’. This applies to managers right through to individuals, who are trying something new and feeling safe that they can ask and have that conversation [about flexible work].’

Listen to the full podcast interview with Emma and Vanessa here as they discuss the benefits of flexible working for both individuals and companies, and explore the impact Flexible Working Day has had on overcoming ‘flexism’ in the working environment.