How can part-time work be used as a driver to increase the number of women in management bodies?

Part-time work is the subject of numerous grievances and misconceptions. Too often perceived as a second-best solution, it could nevertheless be an effective tool in addressing the lack of gender diversity in leadership boards if rooted in a comprehensive and ambitious gender equality policy.

A tool underused by leaders

Is it possible to work part-time while holding a demanding position? It is widely assumed that part-time work is associated with a lack of qualifications or even a fear of commitment. With such assumptions, it can be difficult to imagine that part-time work is compatible with senior-level positions.

In fact, it is clear that in many cases, part-time work penalises women who aspire to reach top management. With less time spent physically in the office, it is even more difficult for women to network and take part in social interactions that are considered indispensable, despite the fact that remote work is changing presenteeism culture. Far from being anecdotal, these obstacles partly explain the low uptake of this often-devalued work agreement by white-collar workers.

A means for retaining talent

When it is chosen and not imposed, part-time work is a great tool for employees who want a better work-life balance. Normalising part-time work would certainly be seen as a lifesaver for many people who could benefit from better balance by spending more time with their families or devoting time to a personal passion. However, it is not acceptable for part-time workers to have to condense a full-time workload into a shorter timeframe, and for a lower salary. To avoid this pitfall, such initiatives must be accompanied by real structural and organisational changes in favour of gender equality.

It is the company’s responsibility to create the conditions for this kind of equality, by combining support measures with a resolutely inclusive policy towards part-time employees. In practice, this includes adapting meeting times to consider employees’ schedules when organising both professional and non-work-related events.

As with remote work, part-time work must no longer be an exception, nor must employees have to justify its use. Although it is not the end-all-be-all of a gender equality policy, part-time work would still be a significant step towards avoiding the ‘opt-out phenomenon’, whereby qualified women turn away from executive roles. It is therefore in the interest of companies to give part-time work visibility in order to make it a real tool for attracting talent, especially female talent.

Article published in Les Echos

Virginie Chauvin Partner, Member of the Executive Committee of Mazars France