Women have made significant advancements in the workplace over the past few decades. However, gender inequality and discrimination still exist. Women continue to face challenges balancing work and family responsibilities. They are also less likely to hold leadership roles and earn equal pay as men. Recent research demonstrates the importance of workplace flexibility and trust in supporting women's career advancement and satisfaction.
Today we will explore how flexibility policies and trustworthy work environments empower women in the workforce.
The Value of Flexibility for Working Women
The research described in “Increased flexibility helps women at work, but workplace trust helps even more” was based on surveys of over 65,000 employees across 27 countries conducted by Ernst and Young. It found that flexibility had a significant positive impact on women's perceptions of inclusion and ability to advance in their careers. Flexibility refers to policies such as remote work options, adjustable hours, and paid time off. Access to these types of flexible work arrangements allow women to better manage work and personal responsibilities. Examples include working from home when children are sick or adjusting start and end times to accommodate school drop-offs and pickups. Flexibility gives women greater control over their time and schedules. This freedom supports their ability to succeed both at home and at work.
The survey results showed that flexibility increased women’s feelings of inclusion in the workplace by 17%. Enabling women to balance work and personal demands demonstrates that companies value and trust their female employees. Flexible schedules also empower women to participate more fully in career advancement opportunities. When women can manage personal obligations, they can take on leadership roles, special projects, business travel and other activities key to promotion. The research found that flexibility boosted women’s perceptions that they could reach senior levels in their company by 22%. Access to flexible work arrangements signifies that businesses appreciate women’s contributions and are invested in their growth.
Examples of Successful Flexibility Initiatives
Many top companies have implemented innovative flexibility initiatives to support their female workforce. At Microsoft, women make up over 25% of the workforce but only about 17% of leadership roles. To bolster inclusion and advancement of women, Microsoft launched a pilot program allowing employees to customize their schedules. Participants could change their hours, take extended weekends or work remotely. After the pilot, 95% of participants said the experience made them feel more included at the company. Many cited increased productivity and ability to participate in career development events like global conferences. Based on the successful trial, Microsoft rolled out the flexible work program to its entire U.S. workforce.
Deloitte, an accounting and professional services firm, has an agile working program that allows employees to vary their schedules and location. Over 80% of Deloitte's workforce takes advantage of agile working. This program has increased women’s satisfaction and enabled more females to take on leadership roles. Deloitte frequently tops lists of the best companies for women. The agile working program is a key driver of both inclusion and advancement of women at the company.
The multinational bank Barclays empowers employees to work flexibly through their Dynamic Working program. Employees can change their start and end times, condense their workweek or share job responsibilities with teammates. Dynamic Working has been life-changing for many working moms. One Barclays employee was struggling with picking up her daughter on time from daycare until she shifted her schedule to start and end earlier. She said, “It's wonderful to walk out of the office in time to pick up my daughter with a smile on my face.” By providing flexibility, Barclays enables women like her to balance work and family, driving engagement and productivity.
The Need for Workplace Trust
While flexibility is invaluable for women in the workforce, the Ernst and Young research found that an even more important factor is building trustworthy work environments. Organizations that cultivate trust see greater advancement of women into leadership roles. The study defined trust as the ability to speak freely, be given the benefit of the doubt and feel supported in managing work-life demands. Women who reported working in high-trust environments were 20% more likely to say they have equal opportunities for growth and promotion. In low-trust environments, women often feel sidelined.
Lack of trust manifests itself in different ways. Women may feel dismissed when they share ideas or face skepticism about their competence that their male peers don't experience. They can be penalized or judged negatively when they need to care for family members. Without trust, organizations miss opportunities to elevate female leaders who bring fresh perspectives and approaches. On the other hand, workplaces where women feel respected, heard and valued help them thrive. The research demonstrates that cultivating trust accelerates women's advancement and closes the gender leadership gap.
Strategies for Building Trust with Female Employees
Companies that want to strengthen trust implement both structural programs and everyday interpersonal habits to support women. Structural programs include mentoring, sponsorship and employee resource groups designed to promote women. These programs connect women to senior leaders who provide guidance to help them overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. They also create communities where women can find role models and allies when dealing with challenges like unconscious bias in the workplace.
On an interpersonal level, leaders build trust by empowering women through active listening, advocating for them and giving credit. Leaders who respond openly when women share ideas and concerns make them feel heard and respected. Publicly recognizing women's contributions rather than taking credit makes them feel valued. Accommodating flex schedules and time off requests demonstrates trust in women to manage their own workloads. Leaders who are transparent about opportunities for advancement and actively sponsor qualified women to pursue them help dispel the boys’ club mentality.
Simple acts like asking for women's input in meetings, allowing space for discussion and greetings like “good afternoon ladies” may seem trivial. But these everyday behaviors shape an environment where women feel recognized, not marginalized. They communicate genuine interest in women’s perspectives and reinforce a culture of trust. The combined impact of structural programs and cultural habits that empower women enables companies to fully leverage female talent.
Trust Is Vital to Retaining Women
Maintaining women's trust is also key for retention. One in three women said they plan to leave their job within two years, often driven by lack of trust according to the Ernst and Young research. Women who don't feel their opinions are valued or who are passed over for advancement will seek opportunities where their contributions are recognized. On the other hand, companies who cultivate trust create an environment where women envision lifelong careers.
The research found that when women trust their employer, they are 53% less likely to consider leaving in the next two years. Building inclusive, flexible and trustworthy work environments leads to women feeling engaged, empowered and invested in staying with your company long-term. This retains key female talent and minimizes the high cost of turnover due to lack of trust.
Enabling flexible work arrangements demonstrates to women that companies appreciate their contributions and are committed to their growth. But cultivating trust through programs that promote advancement and everyday habits of empowerment are even more essential. Workplaces where women feel heard, respected and supported unlock their full leadership potential. Trust also pays dividends in higher retention and reducing the loss of valued female employees. As the Ernst and Young research shows, building trustworthy environments where women can thrive is the most impactful step organizations can take to achieve gender diversity, especially in leadership roles. The future of work will depend on companies creating cultures of flexibility and trust so that women can succeed in equal numbers at all levels.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.