Is Flexible Working shaping the Diversity and Inclusion Landscape?

by Mark Staniland, Managing Director of Hays Ireland

Working practices across Ireland have seen revolutionary change this year in light of the Covid pandemic. ‘Business as usual’ took a back seat as organisations handled the immediate impacts of the pandemic and huge numbers of professionals switched to working remotely almost overnight.

It’s only now, however, that we are able to look back and actually gauge the effect these events have had on our working lives, and start to assess which of the changes we have seen might, in fact, be permanent. According to research conducted for the Hays Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 2020 report, an area that has felt considerable impact has been the ED&I agendas of organisations.

How high a priority is ED&I, both for organisations and professionals?

The importance of ED&I has not been depleted by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to our research. Employers and professionals alike believe a more equal, diverse and inclusive workplace offers many advantages for their organisation, with productivity, staff morale and organisational leadership just three areas that are perceived to be positively impacted.

Our findings also highlight the importance that professionals place on working somewhere that is committed to ED&I. We found that nearly three quarters (71%) of professionals said that, when looking for a new role, an organisation’s diversity and inclusion policies are important to them. Furthermore, 60% said they would only apply to an organisation which has a public commitment to ED&I. Therefore ED&I needs to remain a priority – particularly when it comes to attracting new talent.

How the flexible working revolution is perceived to be impacting diversity and inclusion

Flexible and remote working have been rising in popularity for some considerable time, but the rapid transition to full-time remote working for many during lockdown has had an impact. 69% of Irish professionals are currently working flexibly and the vast majority (89%) believe that increased access to flexible working can help their organisation gain access to a more diverse pool of talent.

However, respondents also noted drawbacks that this flexibility has, with nearly half (49%) saying that flexible working practices can cause boundaries between work and home lives to blur, and almost a quarter (24%) saying that they can cause burnout. Furthermore, 15% believe that working flexibly is negatively impacting their career progression.

What employers can do

So how can employers use flexible working to drive their ED&I agenda? Here are our recommendations:

  • Showcase a public commitment to ED&I: A diverse and inclusive workforce is no longer a unique selling point to prospective employees. Employers wanting to attract and retain the best individuals need to make comprehensive ED&I policies a core part of their talent acquisition and retention strategy, and have a public voice on current diversity and inclusion issues.
  • Promote ED&I initiatives across the jobseeker journey: ED&I policies including flexible working options need to be promoted at key points in the jobseeker journey, such as in job ads and on your organisation’s website, to avoid lowering your engagement with top talent.
  • Understand that flexible working isn’t ‘one-size-fits-all’: Flexible working options should be tailored – employers need to realise that it offers huge advantages for some, but drawbacks for others depending on their role, working style and personal circumstances. Try to be mindful of and accommodating to this by remaining open to flexible working for all employees, not just those who are parents or carers.

What action can employees take?

What can employees do to reap the ED&I benefits of flexible working? Here are some things to think about:

  • Look for an employer’s commitment to ED&I: If you are job searching, make looking for ED&I policies a priority. Organisations who are committed to ED&I are invariably more enjoyable to work for and are more likely to thrive in our rapidly evolving world of work.
  • Consider what working style works best for you: What do you need to work at your best? Consider what your ideal working arrangement would be and discuss this with your employer. An organisation that truly fosters a diverse and inclusive environment will work with you to figure out a flexible working arrangement which best suits you.
  • Open a constructive dialogue with your employer: Try to remain adaptable and practical in light of your employer’s situation and the current circumstances. When discussing ED&I initiatives or flexible working, approach the conversation constructively and focus on how both you and your organisation will benefit.

By working together, employers and employees can continue to make progress and reap the ED&I benefits of flexible working.