In theory it’s simple: promoting flexible working will help stem the flow of female employees who leave companies after having children. But in Asian financial services, for both firms and the women they employ, flexibility comes with a host of problems.
Women are generally not taking the initiative and asking for flexible hours and/or working locations, according to the 14 HR professionals from international financial-service institutions who attended the recent eFinancialCareers roundtable in Singapore. Not being “seen” in the office still carries a stigma, with many Asian women viewing flexible working as career limiting.
“They won’t request flexible working; we haven’t yet convinced them that it’s ok to do so,” a representative from a US bank told the roundtable. Another attendee added: “The feeling towards gender-diversity policies like this in Asia is ‘what’s the problem?’ Women don’t want to raise their heads; it’s not aggressive culture.”
Her counterpart gave a stark example of employee apathy: “We organised an event for women employees in Singapore recently – 700 staff were eligible to attend; just 25 registered.”
The global downturn and redundancies in the banking sector aren’t helping the cause of flexible working either. “These days people are more concerned about keeping their jobs and creating more revenue, not flexibility,” said one of the HR professionals, all of whom asked not to be named in this report.
A delegate from another American bank said managers have been burnt by staff slacking off while working from home. “They couldn’t make conference calls and generally didn’t make themselves available – unfortunately their behaviour affects the way flexible working is seen throughout the organisation.”
Conversely, many other roundtable attendees reckoned the main gripe came from employees having to do too much work. One remarked: “People who take a salary cut for supposedly reduced hours are still working the same as they ever did. Jobs shares aren’t common at the moment, but they should be better promoted in Asia so people can stick to their hours.”
And the old bugbear about flexibility still holds true: it’s not appropriate for many front-office roles. As a representative from a European bank put it: “To be honest, we focus our programmes on support staff.”