The future of work needs to be inclusive or businesses run the risk of being disrupted

Updated: Jun 11, 2018

The benefits for business of a more inclusive and flexible work place have long been established– increases in employee engagement, lower staff turnover, improved health and wellbeing and improved customer satisfaction and access to markets – just to name a few. There is increasingly another emerging motivation with the rise of the female entrepreneur – adapt – or run the risk of finding your way of doing business seriously disrupted.

If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking the time to read the Top 10 Worst Excuses from large corporates for not appointing women to their boards, as released by the UK Government recently. To be clear these were written this year – 2018. While the boardrooms of London City may seem a world away from Noosa, Australia, they give great insight to some of the prevailing attitudes, culture and barriers facing women in the workforce.

Noosa is no different to the rest of Australia. Women make up about half the population and are significantly more likely to hold an advanced diploma, bachelor degree or graduate diploma and about equally likely to hold a PhD. Despite this, they only make up 40% of the fulltime workforce, while representing 65% of part-time workers and 56% of people not in the labour force at all. A rough analysis shows their median weekly income is roughly 60% of that of men (ABS Census, 2017).

What all of this means is that women – that is our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives and partners–don’t have the opportunity participate in our economy and communities in the way they could or want to across their lifetimes. The 40 to 50 hour work weeks of traditional, full time employment, chained to a physical workplace, are fundamentally incompatible with the caring and private roles we expect women to assume. As a side – they are equally incompatible with the role a lot of men want to play as well.

So, what we begin to see is women seeking employment that is below their skills and experience, less hours or wages than they need, bowing out of the employment market all together or, increasingly, starting up their own business. In fact, research conducted by EY Sweeney and Mums & Co last year gave a very clear message to established businesses - an increasing number of women are finding it is easier to start up their own business than get the flexibility and autonomy needed in an established organisation. In fact the gap is so big women are willing to take this challenge on while pregnant or on maternity leave (41% of respondents), even though it’s something they have never done before (73%), will be doing alone (84%), with limited-to-no external funding in place (83%). This is no small trend. In 2015 the ABS reported that women made up one third of all business operators increasing their numbers by 46% over the last two decades compared to just 27% for men.

The Powerhouse Collective in Noosa was established to help address these issues; breaking the cycle of exclusion by making sure there is enough support for woman in business who are also mothers, as well as addressing the reasons why woman often feel like self-employment is their only option. Until these two issues are solved we will continue to see women set up for a lifetime of financial disadvantage and vulnerability.

We have heard some terrible stories come through our door – of inflexible workplaces, work cultures that still see hiring mothers as a liability, women being made redundant on maternity leave and child care costs so exorbitant, it defeats the purpose of working. Other mothers talk about the ‘black cloud’ that gathers over their head as they prioritise finding jobs that will accommodate their caring responsibilities at the cost of superannuation (pension) contributions. - Aimee Sherriff, Founder The Powerhouse Collective

Established in 2017, the Powerhouse is a community of over 700 people with a business development hub with onsite-childcare at its heart. In just under 12 months there are around 30 women actively working in the space - including lawyers, an architect, writers, business coaches, a financial planner, an accountant, surf shop manager, printer and business consultants just to name a few. These women all report feeling more confident, supported, networked, valued and better able to balance work and their caring roles. It’s not just all about the feels though – these women estimated that that an extra $1 million would be generated in revenue in 2018 by their businesses because of the Powerhouse – which isn’t bad for this small group of mostly part-time start-ups and small businesses. Despite this, the Powerhouse still struggles to achieve credibility and support in the wider business community.

The Powerhouse brings together a business development space with onsite childcare

The Powerhouse and their community are just one part of a quiet revolution that says that there is a way to see the enormous value people can contribute by building more inclusive and diverse organisations where work occurs across non-traditional hours, from remote or multiple locations, in a culture that welcomes and celebrates their contributions. Regional areas like Noosa are strongly positioned, particularly in the midst of a digital revolution, to lead the way in proving that a new, flexible, creative, inclusive way of working that combines lifestyle and decent paid work can enable people and businesses to be the best that they can be. Critical to this, is ensuring the culture and practices of local businesses are consistent with leading practice in this space and ensuring there is an environment that makes it’s a no-brainer for organisations based in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, London or Hong Kong to have employees and suppliers living and working remotely in regional areas like Noosa.

To find out more about the Powerhouse House Collective, supporting businesswomen, changing your workplace culture or exploring opportunities to collaborate contact Aimee by clicking here.

This blog was adapted from a presentation from Aimee Sherriff and Laura Harkins-Small at the Noosa Chamber of Commerce and Industry Roundtable about the Future of Work in Noosa in June 2018.

Aimee Sherriff

Aimee Sherriff is a mum of three and founder of the not-for-profit Powerhouse Collective.

Laura Harkins-Small is a new mum of one, proud Powerhouse member, and Principal at Many Small Things.