6 minute read 25 April 2023

Empowering women at work

New survey on workplace flexibility shows “when” tops “where” in attaining work/life balance for women

Michele Parmelee

Michele Parmelee

United States

Remote. Hybrid. In-person: Much of the discussion around workplace flexibility has centered on where work takes place. But for organizations that want to retain and engage women in the workforce, when work takes place is emerging as one of the new priorities. For the past three years, employers and employees have had to adapt to the dramatic implications the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the way we work. This has been a developing picture as countries started to reopen, with some companies initially embracing hybrid working, others going fully remote, and others demanding a return to the office. As organizations continue to evolve their hybrid and flexible work strategies, they will need to consider how leadership styles and employee support structures can be adjusted to align with these ways of working.

Deloitte’s Women @ Work: A Global Outlook report, based on the responses of 5,000 women across 10 countries, offers a holistic view of working women and how companies are faring in their efforts to retain and engage women in the workplace.

Now in its third year, one of the key findings for 2023 centers around working hours and flexibility. Results show that an organization’s ability (or inability) to offer women flexibility around when their work gets done is a top lever of engagement and retention—even more than where they work (figure 1).

Inflexible organizations risk losing talented women

As employers continue to examine policies around working arrangements, women are looking for flexibility—and this is driving major career decisions. Lack of flexibility around working hours is one of the top three reasons they give for leaving their employer in the past year and is the No. 1 reason women who are looking to leave their current employers give.

But, while they are looking for this flexibility, many women have concerns about the potential consequences of having—or even just requesting—more flexible working hours. An overwhelming 97% of respondents believe asking for more flexible working arrangements could adversely affect their chances of promotion at work, and 95% feel that if they do gain more flexibility, their workloads will not be adjusted accordingly (figure 2)—in effect, they would continue to do a full-time job in fewer hours and for less money.

More flexible working hours could stem turnover

Deloitte’s research shows a strong correlation between how much flexibility women are offered and how long they plan to stay with their employer. The survey shows two-thirds of women in highly flexible work arrangements say they plan to stay with their employer for more than three years, compared to only 19% of women who have no flexibility.

In 2022, “burnout” was women’s top reason for actively considering leaving their employer—nearly four in 10 respondents were looking to leave because of burnout. This year’s data reveals a significant shift: Lack of flexibility around working hours is now the top reason women want to leave their jobs (figure 3). Among women who have actually left their employers in the past year, the top reason was insufficient pay, followed by a lack of flexible working and poor work/life balance.

Mixed messages around hybrid work impede flexibility efforts

Challenges also exist for women working in a hybrid environment. About one-third of women surveyed say they have experienced unpredictable working hours, and similar numbers say they don’t have enough flexibility in their working pattern and/or are expected to go into the workplace despite messaging that says otherwise. These are all significant increases since 2022, indicating that many organizations may be giving muddled messages about hybrid work (figure 4). And, with the survey finding that many women have the most responsibility when it comes to caring for children or relatives, this lack of predictability and mixed messaging can cause significant challenges.

Still, this year’s data shows some signs of progress. While almost four in 10 respondents say they have been excluded from meetings, decisions, and informal interactions when working in a hybrid way, this proportion is considerably lower than it was in 2022 (nearly 60%). And although 30% of women working in hybrid settings say they have less exposure to senior leaders, this is also significantly lower than last year (nearly 50%).

Gender equality leaders get workplace flexibility right

What does it look like when organizations prioritize work/life balance for women and offer more flexibility and control over how and when they work? Over the past two surveys, we’ve profiled what we call Gender Equality Leader (GEL) organizations—organizations that, according to the responses of the women surveyed, foster inclusive cultures that support them and promote mental well-being. Only 5% of organizations surveyed fall into this category, the same as in 2022. Deloitte’s research also identified 24% of organizations as “lagging” in gender equality, while a majority (71%) fall somewhere in between.

Women who work for GEL organizations receive a high level of support from their employer and work in more inclusive environments (figure 5). Only 20% of women working for GELs report not having enough flexibility in their working pattern vs. 45% (nearly half) for lagging organizations. More than three-quarters (78%) say their organization’s commitment to empowering women in the workplace has increased in the last year. This support appears to be paying off, with only 28% of women who work for GELs reporting that their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago, compared to almost three-quarters of those working for lagging organizations. Just 4% of women at GELs say they feel burned out. This carries through to the hybrid environment, with women who work for GELs reporting far more positive experiences with hybrid working. Only 18% have felt excluded from meetings, and only 13% say they do not have enough exposure to leaders.

GELs are reaping the rewards of building a more inclusive culture—women who work for these organizations are far more likely to say they plan to stay with them for more than three years. None of the respondents working for GELs are actively looking for new roles. Additionally, the vast majority of women at GELs (94%) say they would recommend their organization to their friends and family as a great place to work.

Read the Deloitte 2023 Women @ Work report for more insights into how organizations are faring in the quest to retain and engage women in their organizations and achieve gender equality in the workplace.

Cover image by: Jaime Austin

Deloitte Global’s Human Capital practice

Deloitte Global’s Human Capital practice has empowered organizations to leverage their greatest asset: people. We use research, analytics, and industry insights to develop strategies that help organizations drive productivity, spur innovation, and improve retention. Our comprehensive approach to human capital transformation, leadership strategy, and change management also equips organizations to navigate market disruptions and the evolving needs of the workforce.

Michele Parmelee

Michele Parmelee

Global People & Purpose Leader


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