Could flexible working be the key to an inclusive workplace?

Last week was National Inclusion Week, and it got Meraki Talent thinking about diversity and inclusion within the financial services industry.  And, with the increased number of professionals currently working from home, could flexible working be the key to a more inclusive workforce?

According to ONS data, in April 2020, over 46% of employed people worked from home. Of those who did, 86% did so as a result of the current pandemic. As jobs requiring higher qualifications and experience are more likely to provide homeworking opportunities, many of our financial clients work from home and are offering this flexibility to new starters in the short-to-medium term.

A 2020 Deloitte survey looked at home working for financial services employees during the Covid-19 lockdown. Just 10% of financial services employees – including those in banking, investment management and insurance – had a negative home working experience. 70% rated their experience as positive. Additionally, over three quarters of respondents felt they were as, or more, productive working from home. A recent two-year study, conducted by Professor Nicholas Bloom from The Stanford Graduate School of Business, showed that when employees were given the ability to work outside the office, it had a significant impact on both productivity and employee retention.

 The current forced home-working experiment offers the financial services industry a chance to reflect on its ways of working. Along with significant cost savings, could flexible working be the key to an inclusive workplace?

According to McKinsey, businesses with a diverse workforce are up to 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. While diversity and inclusion covers age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, disability can be overlooked.

Although regulations have been introduced, and more companies are convinced of the virtues of recruiting people with disabilities, some organisations have considered disabled workers as ‘risky hires’.  An issue that often arises when flexible working is raised as an option for disabled people is perceived ‘unfairness’. Since March, remote working has been the norm, which means disabled people don’t have to feel like they’re being given special treatment.

Indeed, since the COVID-19 outbreak, disabled workers have taken to social media to express their frustration at how employers, who had previously denied them the reasonable adjustment of working from home, are now making it a priority for all of their staff. 

The flexibility to adapt hours and to work from home could be life-changing for employees with physical impairments, especially for those who are affected by the fatigue of getting into an office. This is especially true in cities such as London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, where public transport is the norm. Commuting for disabled people can be exhausting and painful, and the removal of this additional barrier can pave the way for increased productivity and employee happiness.

More than lifts and ramps

Workplace ‘disability’ evokes images of ramps, lower-positioned urinals and lifts. However, an untold number of people have disabilities — from OCD to lupus — that aren’t necessarily helped by a designated parking spot. Just three percent of workers who identify as disabled are wheelchair users. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, only a minority of people (17%) are born with impairment; most acquire impairment during their careers.

Unseen disabilities

With the mandatory rules on masks in Scotland and England for shops and public transport, the term ‘invisible disability’ has become more widespread. Blindness, deafness, mental illnesses, learning disabilities and illnesses such as ME and diabetes fall under this category. Employers may be slow to realise that their employees suffer some disabilities, particularly hidden ones, and the challenges that office environments pose to those affected.

For those workers with neurodiverse conditions including autism, ADHD and dyslexia, environment is crucial. These workers can avoid sensory distractions and set up their work spaces how they want - often impossible in open-plan office environments.  Whether it is a desk by a window or music to help with concentration, individuals can choose to work based on where, when and how they’re most productive and engaged.

Only time will tell…

The new era of remote working has opened up more opportunities for disabled workers, many of whom had previously been excluded from the workforce by being denied the flexibility they need. It also helps workers who may (or may not) have disclosed their unseen disabilities to their organisations.

Only time will tell if the flexible working trend continues in a post-covid world. One thing is for certain - offering flexibility will be key in attracting and retaining highly skilled disabled workers within financial services. Skills shortages can be filled, while employee motivation and productivity could be increased.