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Jo Best: Champion of change says flexibility key to attracting and retaining women

Jo Best has a simple solution for attracting women to businesses: don’t make them choose between career and family.

I wanted to be successful, I wanted a family, I wanted to work part-time and still be thought of as career focused and professional – my criteria and working values were not going to change – the workforce had to change with me.

Women are still expected to choose a career over family.  Today organisations are embracing words like diversity and inclusion, and while significant inroads continue to be made, the biggest challenge still is in the area of flexibility.

I have fought long and hard to change the perception that if you work part-time you are not career-focused.  I worked part time for 17 years leading major projects and functional teams, I formed the first job-share arrangement in one organisation, first senior leader to work flexibly in many others.  I would say to my bosses, ‘let’s agree to the results and the timeframes and let me worry about the work hours’. My biggest challenge continued to be getting bosses to value my talent, contribution, results and career aspirations when I didn’t want to work full-time. 

In the mid part of my career, I had to hide the fact I worked part-time.  The culture in that organisation was that I wasn’t serious, if I didn’t work full time.  I was harassed at work and missed out on career opportunities because of my flexible work arrangements.  I even had one senior woman tell me to stop wasting my time and to choose between a career and being a parent. Needless to say, I didn’t choose.

Policies and systems of flexibility get us on the ‘dance floor’, it’s when we have men AND women working flexibility that we will change the workforce as we know it and with it reduce problems endemic with various sectors, from depression and suicide to attracting and retaining critical and diverse staff.

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