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Careers in Science Q1 2022

Flexible working opportunities should benefit all

iStock / Getty Images Plus / nadia_bormotova

Nicola Brittain

Interim Chief Editor, WISE

The pandemic was both a crisis and an opportunity for organisations who are working to improve diversity and inclusion in STEM.

Women and other underrepresented groups were some of the worst affected by the pandemic according to a 2020 report by McKinsey. Although women in STEM were not as affected as those in sectors such as hospitality for example, STEM employers still need to ensure that new hybrid and flexible working models are created with the maintenance of a diverse workforce in mind.

We recently invited CEOs, Chairs/Chief Executives and other executive board members from our member companies to discuss some of the sticking points around flexible working. The following key points came from the event:

Timely and effective internal communications are critical

Members and partners discussed how they might create a communications strategy to help members of the workforce re-acclimatise to being in the office despite their potential stress and confusion as a result of the pandemic.

A clear top-down communications strategy for employees and people managers was considered essential. Attendees felt that a dedicated ‘return to work’ team would help to manage communication, alleviate concerns and ensure that there is room for much needed collaboration when people are in the office.

They also felt that staff should be empowered to do the right thing themselves. The trust employers put in their staff during the pandemic should be maintained and staff should feel that they are allowed to manage their hybrid working conditions. Executives should continue to focus on performance and delivery rather than where their staff are located.

Executives should continue to focus on performance and delivery rather than where their staff are located.

Ensure workforce diversity is maintained during return to the office

A hybrid working environment needs to recognise the role and significance of the digital workspace and associated new technologies. In the past, there was much less emphasis on home workers using tools that enabled team communication.

In a hybrid environment, employees need to be able to use not only the basic tools but more complex solutions enabling team communication, workload sharing and connection to a virtual head office.

Put D&I centre stage

Working practices changed considerably during the pandemic and now employers are looking at their long-term options. As they bring their workforce back to the office, they should ensure part-time or flexible working options are available, particularly for the most senior roles.

Employers should also ensure that hybrid solutions and other forms of flexible working benefit everyone equally and that they create opportunities for staff to network and participate in joint projects. Ensuring a diversity and inclusion strategy is at the core of any changes made will help an organisation remain competitive and sustainable.

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