"Flexible hours may help women cope with their responsibilities both at home and at work, but must be coupled with deliberate efforts to tackle gender inequality at the workplace," said Hagit Pe'er, chair of Na'amat, Israel's largest women's group, at the Histadrut's Labor Market Conference in Eilat this week.
"Being available 24/7 to your boss is bad for both men and women," she said. "We like to think of it in terms of the difference between flexibility and availability. Flexibility is a good thing. When a boss gives workers flexibility, women can stay in the game more easily."
Pe'er also said, "Women are still usually the keystone holding the household together. They are the ones who take long maternity leaves. Unfortunately, this responsibility is still not shared equally between men and women, and we're currently working on legislation that will allow men to take parental leave too. But there's more to the issue than that. For instance, because women's salaries tend to be lower, when the children are sick they are usually the ones to skip work. This means that their pensions will be lower, and that they will often miss out on opportunities at the workplace. We don’t see many women in top positions."
In addition to legislative issues, Pe'er also stressed the importance of educating children to treat men and women equally. "If we want to promote gender equality we have to discuss education and the culture we create, starting at the youngest age," she said, and added that Na'amat is working on plans for education programs to promote gender equality at school.
Unless deliberate effort is made to change women's position in the workforce, flexible hours won’t help much
The panel also included Maryam Kabhah, head of the Ministry of Labor's Equal Opportunities Program, who stressed the importance of allowing workers time to disconnect from their work. "Constant availability is a form of workplace abuse. Flexible timetables that really allow employees to work around other constraints at home is excellent, not only for women," she said.
"If a woman can make up for time taken off work after working hours, that's great. But if the time she spends working later on amounts to extra work or damages her well-being or family life in any way, that's very problematic."
Kabhah said, "Research is ambiguous regarding the benefits to women of working from home. Often it can add working hours without helping women reach higher positions. She added, "Unless deliberate effort is made to change women's status in the workforce, flexible hours won’t help much."