Patrycja Sobera, Global Vice President of Delivery for Digital Workplace Solutions at Unisys, discusses how hybrid working has led to an increase in women in full-time roles and gives advice to leaders on how to retain this talent moving forward.

As businesses worldwide continue shaping their return to office policies with the satisfaction, progression and retention of their staff, it’s clear that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. What works well for one group of employees may not fit the needs of another. Yet finding the optimal hybrid working environment will be imperative to guaranteeing a diverse workforce in the future where everyone can thrive.

Indeed, recent research has proven that hybrid working patterns have been phenomenally important in boosting the number of UK women in full-time jobs. One reason for this is the ability to work flexibly around childcare, which gives more working mothers the ability to stay in full-time roles. An incredible 10% more mums work full-time now than pre-pandemic. But women in general also tend to attribute hybrid working to achieving a better work/life balance overall.

With businesses under increasing pressure to prove they are doing all they can to build diverse workforces, hiring and retaining more women into full-time roles is more important than ever before. From EU laws being introduced to increase gender diversity on company boards, to a concerted focus on the gender pay gap, organisations will need to – and should want to – look at how they support their female workforces.

Indeed, many requests for information (RFIs) now require companies to prove the strides being taken to increase their female workforce and inclusivity. Over the past few years, Unisys has responded to RFIs that have specifically asked what credentials we can give them on our DEI progress and policies. This will become an even more prominent ask in the future, which means a successful hybrid working environment will not only be important to retaining talent, but also gaining the business of suppliers, too. So, what should be considered when it comes to maintaining gender diversity, and to encouraging women to stay full-time in their employment? Here are some things we’ve found work well:

Give women a space to speak up and share their experience

First and foremost: Listen to your female workforce.

How better to understand what women want to achieve from their career with you than to take the time to ask, and to listen?

It’s been proven that women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome than men, which means they are less likely to proactively speak up regarding their career aspirations, or even to put their hand up and say where their experience or accreditations could be beneficial to a certain task. This can mean projects aren’t always assigned to the people with the best skills to complete them, or women are overlooked to lead teams even when they have the most experience.

Employers who take the time to specifically understand their female workforce’s wants, needs and strengths in the future will go a lot further to not only increase and retain female talent on the team, but to ensure the best skills are being applied to get any task done. One consideration for leaders is to conduct regular focus groups to achieve this.

Use technology to create working parent support networks

Technologies like Microsoft Teams have made managing DEI networks more obtainable on a regional or global basis. They bring reach and scale to sessions, so you can now unite hundreds, if not thousands, of employees from different demographics into focus groups to share their common lived experiences or challenges, whether that’s from within the workplace, or anything they’d like to share from their personal lives.

At Unisys, we hold quarterly EMEA-wide DEI sessions, including for female employees and for working parents. The latter tends to be pointed at working mums, but men are encouraged to join too. We put disclaimers at the start of each session to say people can join in where they see fit or are simply able to listen. We’ve been overwhelmed by the number of employees who join in – around 200 for each of the above sessions, which includes many people from different countries who can join in virtually. This allows us to bring more employees into the conversation and hear more diverse perspectives.

The groups have been so well received that we’ve not only had requests to make them monthly but have found that employees are able to meet new people from across the organization, with many continuing their conversations with one another directly after the sessions. We have also had many instances of people sharing resources such as parenting books or work/life balance techniques.

Ultimately, they give women a space to speak up, be heard, and a greater sense of belonging to the organisation.

Offer duty of care to women working out of hours

Ensure that women are given the support and convenience to do their jobs in the safest way possible. Using listening groups like the above find out why women have felt the need to either leave a job or reduce their working hours in the past, and introduce policies or initiatives which can remove these barriers to full-time work.

As an example, many of our female employees in India work later hours to cover shifts where they are supporting our US clients. If they are working after a certain time, then we provide a taxi service to take them home. We also have a central hub to oversee the taxi service, which ensures they make it home safely and as quickly as possible after their shift. It’s a simple thing to offer, but can really make the difference as to whether or not a woman feels able to keep working full-time, especially as many of our employees told us they need to be up early in the morning for the school run.

We’ve seen this practice is working. Two years ago, we were at 13% female representation within our technical EndPoint Operations support in India, and that’s now 16% in 2023. Overall, our female representation In India increased by 4% since 2020 (29% in 2020 vs 33% in 2023) thanks to these initiatives.

Sentiment analysis ensures everyone has the right tools to thrive at hybrid working

A big topic for the future will continue to be the employee experience. We’ve already seen an evolution, with many companies either instilling employee experience teams, or turning to third-party experts to ensure staff are equipped with the right tools to do their jobs.

However, moving forward sentiment analysis will be a new factor added to employee experience surveys, so we can understand a bit more about the way each member of staff is able to navigate workplace tools, rather than simply state if they work or not.

Rather than asking employees if their device is running properly, in the future, these surveys will ask if they are being equipped with the right tools and training to succeed in their role, whether working remotely or in the office. Regardless of gender or technical ability, we want everyone to have the skills, the access to knowledge base and the right kind of processes to succeed in a hybrid environment.

With proof that hybrid working has led to more female representation in full-time roles, it’s even more important that business leaders run surveys like this on a regular basis rather than just once a year, as it will give them the ongoing insights they need to continue facilitating a hybrid employee experience with the tools that work for everyone, regardless of if they need to dial in to a conversation from home or are joining a meeting in the workplace.

Conclusion

It’s never been more important for businesses to support and retain their female workforce. Hybrid working policies introduced as a result of the pandemic have been invaluable in helping women to achieve a work/life balance which means they are able to stay in full-time roles.
In the future, business leaders need to consider this beyond just return to office plans (which continue to evolve) but as permanent policy and find a balance which shows they have listened to what works for all employees, and can help them stay in their roles while maintaining a satisfactory work/life balance.

Patrycja Sobera, Digital Workplace Solutions Delivery
Global Vice President, Digital Workplace Solutions Delivery at Unisys

Patrycja Sobera is the Global Vice President for Digital Workplace Solutions at Unisys. She is an award-winning service delivery professional, certified in Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Expert, PRINCE2 and Six Sigma. Patrycja brings extensive experience in global technology service delivery, demonstrating a proven ability to drive continual service improvement and optimization while consistently exceeding industry benchmarks.