Rise in flexible work good for gender equality, but employers cautioned not to just ‘set and forget’

Australian employers are choosing to move to an ‘all roles flex’ model for employees, allowing their staff to determine how, where and when they work.

New data on flexible work, reported by employers to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has been released today.

A new voluntary question in the WGEA’s 2021-22 Employer Census asked whether employers had implemented an ‘all roles flex’ approach to flexible work, with a response provided by 78% of the nearly 5,000 reporting employers.

Of those, 38% have implemented an ‘all-roles flex’ approach, ensuring the focus is on work output and outcomes – not hours spent in the office.

All roles flex voluntary question WGEA data launch 2022

However, the rates of ‘all roles flex’ offered varied significantly across industry types, with 48% of mixed-gender industry employers offering this flexibility, compared to 30% of male and female-dominated industries.

Male and female-dominated industries are more likely to require a physical presence in the performance of duties, such as nursing, disability care, construction, mining and farming, which may offer an explanation on their comparatively slow uptake.

‘All roles flex’ is among the priority actions that researchers in Australia and internationally say can drive progress towards gender equality.

Further, nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) said they were more likely to approve formal flexible working arrangements for both women and men because of COVID.

The rise of remote working

When the Census digs into formal actions employers are taking to support employees, not surprisingly, it confirms a sharp rise in telecommuting, or working from home, since 2019.

In 2022, 71% of employers report having a formal policy working from home. This increased from 35% in 2019 (pre-COVID levels) to 66% in 2021.

Other forms of flexible work showed smaller year-on-year increases in availability, including job-sharing (at 52% in 2022, up from 49% last year), flexible hours of work (74% in 2022, from 70% in 2021) and a compressed working week (at 42%, up from 40% from last year).

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