28/01/2009 - 22:00

Flexibile employment conditions key to retaining women at work

28/01/2009 - 22:00

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FLEXIBILITY in the workplace has consistently been identified as the most important measure to attract and retain female workers, according to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry's recent Women in the Workforce discussion paper.

FLEXIBILITY in the workplace has consistently been identified as the most important measure to attract and retain female workers, according to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry's recent Women in the Workforce discussion paper.

But while some new mothers want greater flexibility when they return to work, others choose to start their own home-based businesses, allowing them to spend time with their children while remaining engaged with the business world.

Owner of Interactive Arts, Fleur Allen, started her art sales and rental business in December 2007 when her son, Charlie, was one year old.

From a small base, Ms Allen's business now has 25 local artists under management, as well as an online galley and art rental service.

"I always had the dream to work for myself and after being at home I thought if I wanted to work, I wanted to be based at home and be doing something I really enjoyed," Ms Allen said.

"My whole outlook on life completely changed. I was very career motivated and driven and believed in what I did. I still think what I did was worthwhile, but I wanted to do something that would work into my life a bit more, and that is working from home and being my own boss."

Former lawyer Sarah Wilkins and her friend, former accountant Emma Wright, started Next Phase Recruitment in 2007 after identifying a need for a recruitment service targeting professional women wanting to re-enter the workforce after having children.

"Like us, some of our friends had great experience but were finding it difficult to find something that could balance their priorities," she said.

"Flexibility is the number one retention factor for staff."

Tammy Wayne Elliot started her communications business, Sophia's Choice Communications, when her daughter, Sophia, was four months old.

Using her previous business contacts and networks, Ms Elliot said she was surprised at the demand for her skills and experience, and now commits three days a week, full time, to her business.

"You don't need to apologise, there's nothing wrong with having ambition and wanting to work and having the desire to work," Ms Elliot said.

Access to affordable, high quality childcare and government childcare assistance and paid parental leave is also high on the list of incentives to encourage women to stay in, or return to, the workforce.

Government legislation currently provides for up to 12 months unpaid parental leave, with additional statutory requirements to come into effect as of January 1 next year.

Among the changes, employees will be able to request an additional 12 months of unpaid parental leave, and request flexible working arrangements until their child reaches school age.

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