Can we design gender parity?

March 8 was International Women's Day and I'm writing this 5 days later now I've had a bit of a chance to think about it. Organisers asked that we 'Celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Yet … also be aware progress has slowed in many places across the world.' They say that 'urgent action is needed to accelerate gender parity' and that 'Leaders across the world are pledging to take action as champions of gender parity.'

Gender parity in the workplace means addressing the fact that 'Women are overrepresented in informal, temporary, and low-productivity jobs with low pay and limited opportunities for advancement' and that they 'continue to lag behind men in economic participation and opportunity by 15 to 25 percent in even the most gender-equal societies.' (McKinsey)

The McKinsey video The Power of Parity is powerful in quantifying the economic opportunities that lack of gender parity means. But as other commentators point out economic value is only part of the gender parity puzzle. Gender parity is lacking on many fronts where it could add value – politics, child and elder care, everyday sexism, tax regulations, employment policies (e.g. around family leave), land and inheritance laws and so on.

This leaves me wondering how much organisation designers can wield their skills to become 'champions of gender parity'. What is it that we could/should do that will help with this? (Assuming that we think that gender parity in its many forms is 'a good thing'). There are many ways but I will look specifically at flexible working as one of them.

The UKs Modern Families Index 2016 makes five recommendations related to increasing flexible working. I've taken the headline of each and suggested how organisation designers could help realise the recommendation.

1: Flexibility by default: In each redesign or design piece of work organisation designers should consciously think about the way that existing jobs are done and how they are designed to find ways of incorporating flexible working into them.
2: Getting workplace culture right: There's still a prevailing attitude that flexible working is not 'real' working and many men are hesitant to use even existing flexible working policies. For example: 'A study of 1,030 Australian workers has found that … men were twice as likely to have their flexible work requests rejected and even when they were permitted to work flexibly, felt judged, less confident and committed, and that their careers had been jeopardised'. Download the full report here. Designers can help on this by designing work processes, uses of technology, work patterns and incentives that will support a culture of gender parity for flexible working.
3: Joined up thinking about family and work: The Modern Family report notes that seniority allows for flexible working. Paradoxically those on higher incomes are also more likely to be able to afford family care support and more senior people tend to have more discretion over their workloads and how they manage them than more junior people. Designers can redress this in several ways: for example, designing for: outcomes not input, role autonomy, team accountability and trust building. Additionally we could be redesigning benefits packages in a way that will help support balancing family and work commitments.
4: Bridge the childcare/eldercare gap. Although much of the research on flexible working is concentrated on childcare arrangements as the population ages there is an increasing need to consider elder care (and other dependants' care). Again we could be generating innovative approaches to this for example, designing collaborative arrangements with providers of care, or building care support networks within the organisation.
5: Work with the next generation. More long established organisations with traditional ways of working are increasingly losing out on attracting a younger generation who have different views on careers, work/life balance and attitudes to management. See some research here and here. Typically organisation designers are hired by senior executives. Consider contracting with your client to do all design work in collaboration with the next generation.

Do you think we can and should design for gender parity? Is flexible working one aspect where we could support this? Let me know.

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