So this is the constant discussion I hear. Gender equals Diversity – Diversity equals Flexibility – Flexibility equals (dialogues about) Women – Equality equals Diversity = Diversity equals Flexibility and so it goes around. Problem is, Gender does not equal diversity. Gender is a discussion about our constructed gendered roles and how those roles play out in society. It is also about the way we see ourselves through our gendered lens of expectation. Diversity is about the recognition of difference and how we value and respect that difference. Organisational diversity is about leveraging that difference to improve business performance and business reach into new markets and new customers.
Flexibility is not a women’s issue, but I certainly understand the need and the push by many women to increase a level of flexibility in the workplace, and indeed, in society to make it easier for them to participate equality (and sometimes to just be in) the workplace. But flexibility should not be solely attached to women as a ‘women’s issue’ because flexibility is a necessary part of the way that we live and the way that we do business. We live in a fast pace, dynamically changing environment where technology has given us an incredible ability to work from anywhere – a way to be flexible and adaptable which in turn makes us more competitive and relevant in the workforce. It makes organisations more flexible and adaptable and helps them to build resilience so why all the fuss and why do I still hear the ‘flexibility’ term used almost interchangeably with diversity and women?
Well I think its because people in general just haven’t recognised some basic facts;
- As I said the world has changed – we all need to be more flexible and adaptable so this means that people will want, and need to work in different ways
- It takes a male and a female to have a child and before you go off thinking ‘what about single sex parents’, the fact is that at the moment we can only have children when a male sperm fertilizers a female egg. So regardless of who the ‘parents’ are – a male and female have been involved somewhere along the journey. There aren’t too many immaculate conceptions going on out there in the world. This means that there are always two parents – not one
- If someone doesn’t have and care for children then what the hell are we all doing here? Not much point building businesses into larger businesses and building more houses and drilling for more oil when, well, we will run out of people to fuel the engine. Basic
So given that, I would think that children are a fairly basic requirement to ongoing life as we know it but that doesn’t mean that women are the only ones that need to do this job. This idea is something that happened out of necessity when we had to hunt and fight for our food – the men went out to hunt and the women stayed home to build a family. But this is no longer the case and technology has enabled most of us to live without needing to use our physical strength to work and get food, so really our work environments can be more gender diverse.
This leads me to the main point that flexibility is not a women only issue – it is an issue for the ongoing health of our society. It is incredibly important that we include men in the discussion and make ‘flexible’ work environments for them so that they might have time to nurture the next generation too. Yes, yes, not all men and women have children – I know, but should they be denied flexibility? No, I don’t think so, who knows how they are inputting to society?
So going back to my first paragraph, diversity does not equal flexibility, but flexibility does help to increase diversity in our workplaces. Gender does not equal diversity either, its just that the major need for diversity programs is because women have not had the same access to work environments and opportunities as men. In a truly diverse environment, gender balance is only one component and these components will differ from environment to environment. To me, diversity is about the acceptance of difference, and with that acceptance comes an ability to embed equality, flexibility, adaptability and resilience.
So next time you talk about the flexibility argument, consider what you are saying, because unfortunately for many, the diversity equals flexibility, equals women is just producing a further degradation of women’s ability to influence.
- The Shocking Discoveries Of Harvard Business School’s Experiment To Improve Gender Equality (businessinsider.com)
- Are really Norse countries a paradise in gender equality? (onwardsupwardsequality.wordpress.com)
- Do Women Really Want Equality? (ideas.time.com)
- Face facts, women have different development needs at work (theguardian.com)
- Gender equality and women’s rights in the post-2015 agenda: A foundation for sustainable development (post2015.org)