Cultural change urged on part-timers
Cultural change urged on part-timers

WA companies offering flexible hours and part-time roles to keep women at work must back it up with cultural change or risk discrimination occurring "with a nod and a wink", say Perth business leaders.

Part-time workers should not be excluded from promotions or inadvertently sidelined by having meetings scheduled when they are not in the office. Attitudes towards men working flexible hours must also change.

The warnings come as the number of part-time workers nationally and in WA is growing and technological advances have made flexible work arrangements increasingly viable.

Woodside Petroleum executive Rob Cole said gender equality policies were not enough if the company's culture did not support them.

Woodside's biggest gender diversity challenge was retaining experienced mid-career women.

"These mid-career women in their 30s and 40s are pulled in multiple directions," Mr Cole told a recent Perth business function.

"They are often in or poised for leadership roles but at the same time may have young families.

"Women at this level need flexible work options as well as exposure to challenging roles and assignments.

"We need to focus on encouraging women back to work after having children and removing the cultural and organisational barriers to foster this return.

"Women in this situation, where they're doing two jobs at once, can feel at work like they're unable to fully contribute and not fully seen as still in the groove.

"At home they can feel like they're too distracted to be doing a proper job around the house as a mother compared with other mothers who stay at home.

"So there are deeper societal attitudes and it is a really major problem."

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Mr Cole said what mattered was company culture, values and unwritten laws about "how really you get ahead" in the firm.

"In my view, a sound set of real values are the essential foundation for gender equity," he said.

"No matter how good your policies, programs, initiatives and activities may be or how well developed on paper or otherwise your gender diversity strategy is, it will all be meaningless if you have a toxic culture where discrimination occurs silently, covertly and with a nod and a wink," he said.

Landgate chief executive Mike Bradford said backing up policies with behaviour started at the top.

"If others see the CEO rescheduling his own meetings to accommodate a part-time worker meeting, that's important," he said.

"It's a combination of embedding it in our values and then demonstrating that you live those values. It's not about saying you've got these policies, it's about actually implementing them and living them."

Committee for Economic Development of Australia WA director Liz Ritchie said evidence suggested some part-time employees did not have the same opportunities as full-time colleagues.

"Providing flexibility and part- time roles to both men and women is a very good first step for an organisation to implement but it cannot stop there.

"It needs to be a whole of organisation strategy and belief system that the organisation supports its staff and their families," she said.

"We are definitely seeing it (part-time and flexible work) more and more but it isn't always orchestrated and executed well.

"There needs to be more training within organisations to understand the importance of defining the role from the outset and setting boundaries."

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Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker said committee-backed research suggested many people felt they had to fight to secure flexible hours.

"People felt that even if the policies were available they were still on a bit of a crusade," she said. "It was an individual negotiation."

Attitudes towards men also had to change.

"Some men are choosing to look after their children and take on that primary childcare role and as a society we're not very tolerant of that," she said. "We think there's something wrong with him.

"Mother's group is called mothers' group - it's not called parents' group.

"The men who have chosen to do that should be as supported as women are and they're not."

The West Australian

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