Flexibility in working arrangements made possible by digital technology allows men and women to spend equal time between children and work.
Exploiting new technologies to promote the right work-life balance, with the added effect of improving gender equality. Because in advanced economies, paid motherhood, childhood education and family support services are not enough. And where these measures do not even exist, it is technology than can bring about a turnaround. This is the conclusion reached by experts who gathered in the United Nations in New York in March to take stock and look towards the future.
The organisation of work through a combination of flexibility, autonomy and collaboration that does not necessarily require being in an office is not a new concept. According to the Association for Psychological Science, it has been a topic of discussion since at least the 1970s. Yet is its rate of diffusion growing at the speed we would expect in a digitised world like the one we live in? This is despite new forms of teleworking, made possible by technologies to help improve the relationship between work and private life, which is one of the eleven factors that together determine OECD’s Better Life Index, with positive effects for society.
“Digital transformation can be seen as an aid to improving professional prospects for women, lowering the barriers to participation in the labour market”, Erika Bernacchi from the Istituto degli Innocenti explained at the event. From the Palazzo di Vetro she said that, at the European Union level, the female employment rate is even lower than the male one by 11.5%. And household responsibilities and looking after loved ones explain the inactivity of 31% of women against only 4.5% of men.
In her opinion, “giving men the opportunity to work from home would reduce gender discrimination by relieving women of the responsibility of being the only ones that have to take care of the home and children”.
Charles Ramsden, of the Council of Europe, agrees. “We also want men to work with flexibility so that it doesn’t seem like something only women can do”.
Maria Noel Vaeza, from UN Women, pointed out that, in addition to women trying to break through the so-called glass ceiling, there are many others who have different problems. There are 750 million women who do not have access to education or public services. And for those in Africa the digital divide is getting worse. To combat this, a platform called Buy From Women was launched in Ruanda which provides real-time information on the size of fields, climate and production level estimates thanks to the use, for example, of GPS and drones. “This combination of technologies allows them to have more free time to dedicate to their children and family and it also reduces the risk of being subject to violence in remote areas” where they no longer necessarily have to go to check the crops, Vaeza explained.
For Auxilia Ponga, UN representative for Zambia, “the problem lies in identifying and cultivating the intelligence of girls“ in Africa right from the start, exposing them to what is called STEM disciplines in the USA.
According to IDC, by 2020 mobile workers in the US will exceed 105 million, almost 75% of the workforce. In this context, it is not surprising that millennials are demanding flexibility solutions. And that companies adapt. As explained by the researchers in the LinkedIn report 2019 Global Recruiting Trends, companies “may not be noticed if they offer flexibility but they will be noted if they don’t (negatively)”.
“On the other hand – says Bernacchi – in advanced economies, novel working conditions enabled by new technologies not only improve work-life balance, but also reduce transfer times e pollution and improve performances. Unless you end up working relentlessly as the risk is a blurring of boundaries. This is why we need a right to log off”.