Lawyer set to shatter workplace ignorance

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A group of men will tackle challenges in workplace flexibility in a world first documentary series, among them an Australian lawyer.

Michael Chaaya, partner at Corrs Chambers Westgarth will be participating in the documentary series The Equilibrium Man Challenge, which follows the daily lives of six men aiming to change how they work.

The project, developed by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and endorsed by the Diversity Council of Australia, came about after research by Diversity Council found that almost one in five men has considered leaving their organisation due to a lack of flexibility.  Men are also more likely than women to have their requests for flexibility declined.

Chaaya, who is not a stranger to working flexibly, found himself at tipping point and needing to change the way he worked, with his wife a re-elected federal MP and newly appointed shadow minister, a young daughter to care for, and a sister diagnosed with cancer.

He said overcoming the bias around flexible work is one of the biggest challenges for organisations trying to allow employees to work flexibly.  In participating in The Equilibrium Man Challenge and working to instil a culture change from the top down, he hopes to normalise the need for all employees to work flexibly. 

“The exciting thing about this Equilibrium Challenge for me is that it’s about mainstreaming flexible working arrangements and moving the debate away from it being necessarily viewed through the lens of gender,” said Chaaya.  “It’s one thing for an organisation to have a policy, but it’s something completely different to ascertain whether or not that policy is living and breathing throughout the culture of an organisation.  I think it’s important that we demonstrate to our staff that we can practice what we preach.”

Encouraging employees to work flexibly is a hard sell, observed Chaaya.  In participating in the documentary series, along with executives from Telstra, Cisco and Mirvac, he has agreed to be followed by a film crew to see how he does it.

“I see my role as a partner and as a professional in this industry as a custodian for future generations and I want to make sure that the generation that takes the firm after us assumes a firm that is in better shape than when we became partners,” he said.  “I strongly believe that there are lots of men like me who would like a flexible work environment but what they lack is the courage to adopt it.”

He added, “All the research indicates that flexible workers are some of the most productive workers you have in an organisation, and when you’ve got flexible workers that increase productivity, it leads to better engagement, better retention better mental and physical wellbeing outcomes.”