Exploring Flexible Working Arrangements and Marginalized Experiences in a Financial Institution: A Journey to the GWO 2023 Conference in Stellenbosch – by Dominic Lo
26 July 2023
(Photo Above) 29th June, 2023 – Dr. Nina Teasdale, Dr. Maryam Aldossari, Dr. Clif Lewis, Dr. Emily Yarrow, Dominic Lo (Left to Right) at the GWO Annual Conference 2023 in Stellenbosch, South Africa
As a first-year PhD student at the WiSE Centre for Economic Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University, I had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with my Director of Studies, Dr. Nina Teasdale, on a meaningful research project on flexible working arrangements (FWAs). Our work focuses on FWAs and the experiences of workers from lower socio-economic groups, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our efforts culminated in an accepted paper to present at the prestigious Gender, Work, and Organization (GWO) Annual Conference at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. In this blog, I share an overview of our presentation and my experience of attending my first academic conference.
Presentation Overview: FWAs – for all or just for some?
The introduction of lockdown measures in March 2020 led to immediate and large-scale use of home and flexible working arrangements (FWAs) in the UK and similarly across different countries in the world, at different times in the COVID-19 crisis. This highlighted the potential for profound change for the future of work as assumptions around jobs and occupations previously deemed ‘unsuitable’ for home or remote working shifted rapidly. Yet, during the pandemic, the use of home working and other forms of FWAs was not universal. Instead, they were used predominantly by those in higher-paid occupations (60%) compared to those in working-class jobs (23%) (Mutebi and Hobbs, 2022), suggesting a ‘two-tiered’ system.
While extant research shows that FWAs are deeply gendered (Chung, 2022; Lewis, 1997), the classed dimensions of FWAs although recognised have received less attention (Warren, 2015). Adopting an intersectional-sensitive lens (McBride et al., 2015), we contribute to this gap in the evidence base, drawing on pilot research undertaken in a UK case study organisation. We set out to interrogate how FWAs are experienced by marginalised workers – in this case, those working in lower-level occupational positions – both during the COVID-19 pandemic and moving out of it. The research offers a novel complement to the mainly survey-based literature on COVID-19 and FWAs and studies predominantly undertaken with those working in the professions and management. Case study access was negotiated to a large financial services institution, allowing for the exploration of multiple perspectives within a bounded-context, along with consideration of the organisational culture in which policies are enacted. Drawing upon post-structuralist understandings of policies as having ‘complex social lives’ in the ways they are implemented, the paper considers the different types of FWAs that are available to different workers and the ways they ‘play out’ along not only along gendered, but classed lines and intersect with other dimensions of social positionality.
Our aim through our work is to advance both theory and practice through the privileging of the experiences of ‘unheard voices’ to offer a more nuanced understanding of the complex social and organisational power relations in which flexible working policies are situated, and can lead to the amplifying rather than ameliorating of inequalities. To support policy and organisational decision-making, we suggest that as part of their EDI approaches, organisations must reflect on the unintended outcomes of well-meaning policies such as FWAs to ensure they really are for all and not just for some.
Preparation for the Conference
The acceptance of our paper and opportunity to share our work was a moment of excitement for me as it marked my first academic conference and presentation. Dr. Nina Teasdale is always an invaluable mentor, offering guidance on content, delivery, and overall presentation style, which greatly enhanced my skills and boosted my confidence. After much planning and anticipation, the day finally arrived to fly to Stellenbosch, South Africa, and this trip marked my first visit to Africa.
GWO Conference Experience
The GWO Conference, held from 28th – 30th June, 2023 at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, revolved around the theme of “Marginalised Gender Identities – How can Intellectual Activism Transform Work and Organization.” The choice was difficult – each day was full of so many interesting talks and presentations, and I had the privilege of listening to and meeting distinguished scholars presenting on diverse topics from different corners of the world. The conference helped not only broaden my understanding, but gain greater insights into the complexity of our lived experiences and the multiple inequalities faced by marginalized groups. It was humbling to have the opportunity to listen and learn and reflect not only on the substance of what the different speakers were sharing but their differing styles and approaches to presenting.
Presenting and Networking in a supportive and safe space
We were very fortunate to have a great slot – on the second day of the conference, mid-morning and the final presentation of three in our session. I won’t pretend – I was nervous, but before I knew it, I was in full flow. The 20 minutes flew, and it was soon time for questions. Some great questions were shared and I received valuable feedback, providing fresh perspectives that will enrich my research and the development of my ideas. Additionally, I established meaningful connections with friendly scholars in the field, which proved instrumental in building my confidence, knowledge and networks. The convenors of our stream, Dr. Emily Yarrow and Dr. Clif Lewis, along with their colleagues, maintained an open, constructive, and safe space for presenters and participants. This conducive environment was so important, fostering vibrant interactions and fruitful discussions, and helped put everyone at ease – both first-time and experienced presenters and audience members. The photo above really captures the lovely spirit of our stream and conference participants.
Memorable Experience and Gratitude
My trip to the GWO Conference was filled with memorable moments, new friendships, and invaluable knowledge. Attending the conference in person allowed me to experience the full impact of the discussions and form connections that I genuinely treasured. It made my work feel worthy and part of something bigger, and I am immensely grateful for the support from GCU GSBS and the WiSE Centre, which made this enriching experience possible.
To date, my journey as a first-year PhD student has been one of growth, learning, and extraordinary opportunities. My research on flexible working arrangements and marginalized experiences is helping to shine a light on not only individuals and groups of workers often silenced but the unintended outcomes of well-meaning policy in practice that are often glossed over. Presenting at the GWO Conference in Stellenbosch has been a milestone in my academic journey, and I am eager to continue my pursuit of knowledge and contribute to creating more equitable and inclusive workplaces.
Chung, H., (2022). The Flexibility Paradox: Why Flexible Working Leads to (Self-) Exploitation. Policy Press.
Lewis, S. (1997) ‘Family friendly’ employment policies: A route to changing organizational culture or playing about at the margins? Gender, Work & Organization, 4 (1): 13-23.
McBride, A., Hebson, G. and Holgate, J., (2015). Intersectionality: are we taking enough notice in the field of work and employment relations?. Work, employment and society, 29(2), pp.331-341.
Mutebi, Natasha and Hobbs, Abbi (2022). ‘The Impact of Remote and Hybrid Working on Workers and Organisations’, 17 October 2022. https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/POST-PB-0049/POST-PB-0049.pdf.
Warren, T., (2015). Work–life balance/imbalance: the dominance of the middle class and the neglect of the working class. The British journal of sociology, 66(4), pp.691-717.