Want to Motivate Women to Advance? Offer Flex Time

 -  7/22/13

Women at firms offering flexible work options are more likely to have advancement aspirations than those in firms that don’t, according to a recent study.

Despite a recent push by some high-profile companies to rein in flexible working arrangements, a large majority of high potential employees report working for firms that offer some kind of flex option.

In addition to showing that 81 percent of high potentials say their current employer offers a flexible work option, the April 2013 study by nonprofit research firm Catalyst shows that offering flex work actually influences workers’ career aspirations to advance up the leadership pipeline, especially among women.

Roughly 83 percent of female high potentials with access to flex work reported aspiring to the C-suite level, according to the Catalyst study. However, just 54 percent of female high potentials without flex work access reported the same leadership aspiration — a gap of nearly 30 percent.

For men, 94 percent with access to a flexible work option reported aspiring to the senior executive or CEO level, while 85 percent without access reported a similar sentiment, according to the study. Additionally, women working at firms without flexible work options were more than twice as likely to “downsize their career aspirations” compared to men.

The study of 726 MBA graduates working full time in both for-profit and nonprofit firms across industries defines flex work in one of six ways: flexible arrival and departure; flexibility when work is done during the week; telecommuting; compressed work week; reduced or part-time work; and job sharing.

Aside from debunking the notion that flexible work arrangements are the exception and not the rule, the study underscores the significance offering the work style plays in attracting, retaining and advancing the careers of high potential talent. It also shows the value of offering flex work in motivating more women to aspire to leadership roles, said Anna Beninger, a senior research associate at Catalyst and a co-author of the study.

“The reality here is flexible work arrangements are very critical,” she said.

The study also addressed a number of other common myths surrounding flexible work.

For instance, the mean age of high potentials who reported flex work as being “very” or “extremely” important was 41 years old, discrediting the belief that only younger workers prefer flex work.

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