Flexwork: What Female Professionals Want

In a March talent shortage survey from ManpowerGroup, more than half of employers reported that skills gaps impact their ability to serve clients. Globally, 13 percent of employers surveyed said such shortages are redoubling their efforts to recruit from untapped talent pools. Yet at the same time just 2 percent report to be actively looking to add more women to their workforce.

What’s more, even though women represent about half of the potential global workforce, nearly half of working-age women are not active as full-fledged workers in the global economy. Moreover, business advisory company Grant Thornton International’s “2012 International Business Report” found that barely one-in-five senior management positions are held by women. And as Forbes reports, women hold just 15.7 percent of board seats among Fortune 500 companies.

In looking at the strategies employers are pursuing to overcome talent shortages, there is a clear disconnect. In essence, what companies are offering is not what women want. According to a 2013 LinkedIn study of women in 13 countries, “What Women Want@Work,” 63 percent of women say success at work means finding work-life balance. Separately, 65 percent of women report in the study that flexible work options are important now and an additional 21 percent say they will want them in the future.

But according to the aforementioned ManpowerGroup survey, only 6 percent of employers reporting a talent shortage are redesigning work practices such as sharing work assignments, and just 5 percent are offering more flexible work arrangements. An even smaller percentage offer virtual work options.

These statistics point to the need for diversity leaders to shift to work models that better provide women with the flexibility they seek. There also needs to be greater focus on strategic ways to reintegrate women who temporarily leave the workforce to raise a family.

Skill lifecycles are now so short that being out of the workforce for any period of time makes it difficult to return, because skills have atrophied and technology has advanced. Flexible work models and people practices can ensure that women are not forced to choose between a career and children.

To engage high performers — including women — companies should adopt new leadership models, people practices and talent sources so that all employees can unleash their full potential.

Recognizing the value of flexible working arrangements to women and creating a culture that supports individual choice in work options can give companies a significant advantage over competitors.

Mara Swan is executive vice president of global strategy and talent for ManpowerGroup. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.