From education to employment

How can women make work “work” for them?

Liz Sewell FIEP, Director, Belina Consulting

The job, as a concept is vanishing. Long gone are the days of a ‘job for life’. The economic forecast indicates that wages are unlikely to increase over the next decade, zero hours contracts are on the rise and the ‘gig economy’ seems here to stay.

We have to rethink the whole thing. How do we make this work for us? Could this new world of work hold any advantages? Are there opportunities to be had here?

Traditionally a job has meant getting to the workplace at 9.00am and leaving at 5.30pm but how well does that model actually fit with our lives, particularly women’s lives?

For many women, especially those who have caring responsibilities, the traditional work model falls far short of what they need to make it work in the real world.  Fitting within scheduled hours can be difficult if you have a child or elderly parents to support and even harder if you are a lone parent.  For those who have been away from the workplace for a long time it can make the prospect of returning to work especially daunting.

So, what do women really need to make it easier for them to return to work and can they really benefit from this new era of flexible employment?  At Belina Consulting we know they can.

Flexibility is of real importance if we are to truly harness the many skills and talents that women in the workplace have to offer and Belina’s own employees are proof that with a flexible outlook and attitude it can really work. All of Belina’s staff share more than just a knowledge of what it takes to juggle the responsibilities of parenthood with the world of work.  We also share a drive and determination to make work “work” but in a way that fits in with our lives and allows us the space we need to fulfil a wide range of responsibilities outside of the workplace.

We fit our work around our lives but in order to do that there has to be an understanding and a trust in one other that we will each do whatever it takes to get the job done.  That might mean that we are working long into the night some evenings or rising at the crack of dawn some mornings but if it means we can be at the school gates at 8.45am and again at 3.15pm, attend Sports Day and Leaving Assemblies and be nurse when our children are sick then it’s worth it.

But how can an employer function in such a seemingly disparate way? It’s quite easy – it’s just a question of believing in your staff and recognising that people can offer so much more if they are happy and feel empowered. Feeling under pressure to perform within restrictive work patterns and constantly juggling responsibilities can leave women with the feeling that they are never really giving 100% of themselves to any one task.  Women don’t want to have to choose between giving their all to their job or giving their all to their children.  By just being a little flexible there’s no why reason they can’t do both.

Of course, suitable and affordable childcare is crucial to allowing parents to return to the workforce. From September this year the provision of free hours of childcare will be extended: all working families (providing both parents earn the equivalent of 16 hours on the minimum wage per week, and less than £100,000 per year) will be able to use a total of 30 hours free childcare a week for their three and four year old children.

Until this extension is rolled out, we will not know its true cost and impact. However, concerns over funding arrangements have led to uncertainty over how childcare providers will react – will there be sufficient funding, will providers be able to absorb the costs, or will they opt out of the scheme altogether? These are issues that will remain to be seen and, whilst in principle the provision of 30 hours free childcare should prove beneficial to working families and those who are most disadvantaged, we would like to see a more comprehensive solution that would ensure that all low-income families benefit from the extra hours and gives those with younger children greater flexibility around when they return to work.

In the meantime, the digital revolution is enabling us all to work in a different way. Email, mobile phones, Skype, Facetime – all are allowing people to work well remotely, without the need to enter an office, without the need to be at a desk from 9.00-5.30.

The new world of work poses an attractive proposition for women by creating almost limitless possibilities for them to create the types of jobs that they want, jobs that allow them the freedom to think long-term and adapt with the changing needs of their families, to get connected again and above all, to take control of their lives.Liz Sewell 100x100

Liz Sewell FIEP, Director, Belina Consulting

Work in Progress: Liz will be running a ‘Talking Table’ at Work in Progress on 25th April in Birmingham on the “50 Year Career and what it means for employability that women now have to work from 18 – 68.

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