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by Jamie Szymkowiak
06 September 2021
Comment: Flexible working is the key to a diverse workforce

Comment: Flexible working is the key to a diverse workforce

Experienced HR and recruitment professionals always appreciate that there are numerous push and pull factors attracting applicants to new jobs. Poor relations with the boss, being overlooked for promotion, feeling undervalued or a lack of opportunities to grow and learn are some of the most common reasons cited.

However, employers who have been too quick to enforce return-to-office policies have created a brand new push factor that sees recruiters busier than ever.

Those of us who champion the benefits of diverse workforces must seize the moment by explaining the need for employers to embrace flexible working or else they risk seeing key staff leave for more flexible and inclusive workplaces.
Just last week, Google was pressured into delaying its mandatory return-to-office date for a second time amid a growing backlash from staff, and the uncertainty caused by the rise of new Covid variants.

Employees are, quite understandably, angered by examples of senior executives working remotely while low-paid staff are instructed to return to offices or, in some cases, face a pay cut.

The US tech giant is not alone in this as numerous companies, such as Apple and Facebook, have now revised their own policies multiple times; even plans to introduce hybrid working have seen some employers acquiescing to demands for permanent remote work, or face the risk of talent drain.

As the BBC reports record-high job vacancies in the UK and falling unemployment numbers, unhappy staff will inevitably look to companies taking a different approach and according to recent survey results from global research firm Gartner, that approach is a single word: flexible.
As a disability right’s activist and HR professional, I have been advocating the benefits of flexible working long before Covid, yet I am cognizant of the fact that it took a global pandemic to change the behaviour of corporations across the world.

Remote working means that relying on inaccessible transport and badly designed workplaces are no longer hurdles for disabled workers.

Where once a wheelchair user in Glasgow had to conquer inaccessible busses, they can now join meetings via Zoom from their living room.

Thanks to their employer welcoming a new remote-first policy, rather than a visually impaired colleague having to dodge numerous hazards venturing across Edinburgh before arriving at the office, they can get to their desk unscathed, making them happier, safer, and more productive.

Plus, a whole new pool of talent has opened up in employees with energy-limiting conditions who could always do amazing work but were not always able to combine it with other daily activities.
The benefits of flexible working and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) hiring strategies go hand-in-hand and opens a gateway to hiring diverse talent beyond disabled workers.

Advertising that your company offers flexible working makes you a more attractive proposition for women and inevitably leads to a larger pool of talent to hire from.

In supporting women who prefer to work remotely, you are demonstrating your strengths as an inclusive employer who is aware that women are typically required to spend disproportionately more time and money on caring and parental responsibilities than men.
While some LGBTQ+ people are anxious that remote-only will exacerbate the 7 per cent pay gap between gay and straight colleagues, there are several examples of how remote working has made life that little bit easier for transgender employees.

This illustrates that flexible working remains the key: offering a safe co-working space that enhances the opportunity for talent to be recognised will be the right solution for some people whereas for others the workplace can be an additional hurdle that contributes to heightened anxieties.
Retaining accessible co-working workplaces, rather than being a remote-only employer, offers colleagues the space to collaborate and improve team-building skills which in turn boosts mental health and helps avoid the feeling of loneliness.

It’s important to point out, however, that returning to the office environment might not be to the benefit of everyone’s mental health.

One example of this was included in a recent report by Insider, which points out that remote work can improve the mental health of Black women as they have more control over their environment and interactions with colleagues.
In an increasingly tight labour market, employers will be searching for innovative ways to attract talent. It’s a person-centred approach to flexible working that will attract a more diverse talent pool, thus making DEI hiring strategies a key component for any company with ambitious growth targets.

Covid forced many companies to operate in ways they previously refused to consider and as we rush for things to return to ‘normal’ it’s essential not to lose sight of the benefits that remote working offers.

Supporting your staff by being a flexible employer delivers the ultimate employee experience and will guarantee that you attract - and retain - diverse talent.
Jamie Szymkowiak is on the Board of Directors at Into Work, an Edinburgh-based charity that supports disabled people and people with long-term health conditions find and keep great jobs

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