Micole Garatti
Marketing, Writing, and Recruiting

Ever since the 40-hour work week was popularized in the 1920s and became U.S. law in the 1940s, working 9 to 5 has been the norm. But, those working hours don’t work for large segments of the US workforce. And, it’s not only hindering organizational efforts to attract and hire women, it’s actually driving women out of the workforce altogether. 

More and more corporations have acknowledged the growing body of research that shows that gender diversity brings increases in innovation, leadership, and profitability. While 78% of CEO’s say gender equality is a priority (PwC), the methods to achieve it often remain elusive. Recently, though, one company took a big and deliberate step to attract, support, and retain women in their workplace. 

In a study backed by the U.K. government’s Behavioral Insights Team, leading insurance provider, Zurich, aimed to see if it could attract significantly more women by making flexible work arrangements an integral part of their employer brand and job descriptions. As part of their efforts, they leveraged gender-neutral language in job descriptions and added the words "part-time, full-time, job share or flexible working" to 80% of its open positions. And the results were clear: these changes resulted in more than double the number of applications by both men and women, and helped them increase women hires in leadership from 37.5% to 50% in one year.

The study was conducted from March 2019 to February 2020, prior to the pandemic and related recession. Thus, it supports what many organizations are now seeing - that flexible working environments, diversity-focused employer brands, and gender-neural job descriptions lead to more women applicants and hires. 

The approach taken in the study was deliberate and somewhat extreme - well beyond the usual concept of flexible working. Zurich made clear that workers could define their own schedules, and even stated that the company would work the hours that work for them. Even more, they told job seekers that they were even willing to hire a second person to job share to support employee needs while ensuring work gets done.

As uncommon job sharing is, it’s highly effective not just in attracting and retaining top talent. But, also for productivity, as well.

Today’s U.S. workforce is at an impasse. So much so that Bloomberg calls our current state “the first female recession,” and Lean In’s CEO is pushing the “panic button.” As roughly 1 million women leave the workforce due to the pandemic-driven lack of childcare, burnout, and more at-risk jobs, many organizations are coming to the same realization that Zurich did earlier this year: rather than expecting employees to build their lives around work, organizations should build work around people’s lives.  

At Galvanize 2020, executives at leading organizations around the world came together to talk about how we can keep more women from leaving the workforce. Leaders from Deloitte, PwC, Prudential, and more all detailed similar solutions to Zurich’s in their efforts to create more flexible, inclusive, and supportive workplaces. Chief Talent & Capability Officer at Prudential, Vicki Walia, spoke about how focusing on outcomes, and not hours, can help. “Does it matter if someone got their work done in 2 hours or 4? No.”

Between our sessions at Galvanize about supporting women at work, Zurich’s study on improving job descriptions to attract the talent you want, and the studies that force us to question our typical work day and week, it’s clear that the ways in which we’ve been working simply don’t work. What’s also clear is that we now know what specific steps we can take to correct our past mistakes and actually achieve gender equality (and all the benefits that come with it.) 

At the start of Galvanize, Co-Founder and President of Fairygodboss, Romy Newman said, “Gender equality isn’t going to happen in my lifetime. But what would it take for my 6 year old daughter to see gender equality in her lifetime?” In just one year, Zurich proved they could see parity in their applications. Now, it’s time for more companies to act on this finding.