• Zurich was the first firm in the UK to advertise all its vacancies with flexible working options.
  • Nearly 20% more women applied for management roles, according to a study.
  • Boosting diversity in the workplace could help companies recover from COVID-19.

Insurance company Zurich saw a 16% increase in women applying for roles after adding six words relating to flexible working to their job ads.

In 2019, Zurich became the first firm in the UK to advertise all its vacancies with the options of “part-time”, “job-share” or “flexible working”. Combined with the use of gender-neutral language, this led to nearly 20% more women applying for management roles, according to the study carried out with the UK government-backed Behavioural Insights Team.

The number of women hired for senior positions also rose by a third (33%) as a direct result of the initiative over the same period, a separate Zurich study showed. Many of these positions had not previously been advertised on a part-time or flexible basis, and female staff members had reported that this made them less likely to apply.

How the job spec lead to more female applicants
The job adverts from Zurich mentioned job-shares, part-time and flexible work.
Image: UK Government Equalities Office

Flexible working can improve diversity

Zurich also saw double the number of applications from both men and women for roles with more flexible working terms, after it advertised four in five vacancies using the new wording between March 2019 and February 2020. This may highlight that men find flexible hours as appealing as women in today’s working world, the company said.

Steve Collinson, head of HR at Zurich, said of the findings: “Flexible working can help tackle diversity and inclusion issues we’ve all been battling with for many years. Embracing part-time and flexible is not a silver bullet. But we’ve seen hugely encouraging results, simply by adding six words to our job adverts.

“By offering roles that fit flexibly around family, employers could open the floodgates to a much wider pool of untapped talent. This will also help women progress into higher paid jobs whilst fitting other commitments around their careers. Workers want a new deal and there’s a danger that businesses that don’t get on board won’t be able to compete for the best and brightest minds.”

Simple changes can have big impact

The study highlights how small acts can have significant impacts. Baroness Berridge, UK Minister for Women, said of the study: “Zurich’s work in this space has proven how effective a simple change to a job advert can be for workplace equality. It is vital that more employers take this on board as we seek to increase opportunities for everyone in this country.”

While the study took place in the UK, the lessons learned about the benefits of employers embracing flexible working could prove useful for companies and governments across the world as they seek to recover from the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UN Women and US rights group the National Organization for Women are among the organizations which have warned about rising concerns that women are less likely to return to work post-pandemic – with many workplaces likely to become more male-dominated.

Gender gap likely to grow

Women make-up nearly two-fifths of the global workforce but have suffered over half of total job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact, according to the McKinsey Global Institute’s COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects report.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 also reported that women’s participation in the worldwide labour market was stalling, with financial disparities also slightly larger on average compared to the previous year.

Only 55% of women were in the labour market, compared to 78% of men, it showed, with more than 40% of the wage gap – the ratio of the pay of a woman to that of a man in a similar role – still to be bridged.

The Forum report advised that countries should make gender equality a vital part of their nation’s human capital development if they wanted to remain competitive.

As the world continues to suffer widespread economic damage due to the ongoing pandemic, Zurich’s approach to increasing diversity in the workplace could prove to be a simple but effective way of mitigating some of the impact of COVID-19.