REGISTER NOW TO ATTEND Warrior Women at Work is a unique, interactive Women’s Leadership event designed by Women in the City in partnership with ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. The evening will bring together senior female leaders from a variety of backgrounds to share, discuss, compare and contrast their leadership challenges. Our Keynote Speaker will […]
Women are a key part of a growing contingent workforce of freelancers, consultants and part-timers. Despite numerous government policies to attract more mothers back into the workplace, retention is still a significant struggle.
To find out why this is the case, John Williams, Head of Marketing at Instant Offices, explores how employers can tackle retention issues and attract workforce of mothers.
Several data collected indicates working mothers who return part-time, combining professional careers with raising a family, are increasingly frustrated by the type of space they work in. The research shows that the modern workplace often fails to cater for their needs as they face the pressures of combining busy working lives with lifestyle and family obligations.
Blending lifestyle and work for working mums
According to UniSpace, lifestyles and workplaces are blending together, as the working day demands more of our time and technology encourages an “always available” work culture. For mothers, in particular, Office designers have started to recognise the pressure to achieve a lifestyle and workplace balance – particularly for those who are in part-time roles and arguably have to juggle time more than ever before
The data from WorkingMums.co.uk indicates that the number of female workers seeking part-time work, at all levels of the company, is increasing rapidly, but that the number of available opportunities is failing to increase at the same rate.
What do the numbers say?
From a survey of over 2000 women, it shows nearly one in five (18%) UK working mothers have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request has been turned down.
Breaking down the statistics, around 12% said their employer did not even seem to consider their request at all, and over a quarter (27%) said the reason given for turning down the request was not one which is allowable under flexible working legislation.
A further 41% on maternity leave said the refusal of flexible working would mean they might not return to their job, while 50% said they had not even discussed flexible working before going on maternity leave. In fact, a whopping over half of (60%) of women have admitted to changing jobs after maternity leave.
The survey also shows the availability of flexible working is the key career development issue for working mums, with homeworking being valued highly, particularly for those wanting to work full-time. Other barriers included childcare costs – half of women currently on maternity leave said childcare costs could prevent them from returning to work.
The rise of female workspaces
The growth of the contingent workforce has been one of the key drivers behind the move towards coworking. The rise of female-specific coworking spaces is a significant extension to this trend and highlights some of the limitations of conventional space for female workers.
Due to the lack of flexibility, the introduction of female only workspaces such as The Wing, a US based women-only workspace have been created to cater for busy mothers and women by featuring facilities from onsite creches, childminding to gyms, hairdressers and cafes.
While these spaces may initially be viewed as coworking spaces, their ultimate objective is to become networks that facilitate female entrepreneurship and support women at every stage of their journey.
Creating a balanced workplace
Following responses from a survey by Instant Offices, here are some tips that employers should consider in creating a balanced workplace for all employees:
- Flexible Policies that benefit all parents: Offering a number of ‘family days’ for both mum and dad to attend assemblies and doctor’s appointments, etc… would enable a fairer system for all involved.
- Choice of Mobile Working Options: Flexible working with multiple offices/sites and 4G connectivity would greatly help allow fully mobile working for parents who are on the go.
- Work-life by balance and flexibility for all employees: Providing company-sponsored childcare schemes that would include on-site childcare would improve quality and offer a more practical solution. This includes providing more private space to facilitate phone calls to carers, more flexible hours to work around pick up/drop off hours, and a change in working hours during long summer holidays.
Providing integration of workplace and lifestyle elements in the workplace helps to alleviate pressure on work/life balance – and brings to light recognition of the demands the working day places on them.
The UK’s working parents are penalised for working part-time and suffer from poorly-designed jobs that force them to work extra hours, according to a major new study published today by Working Families and Bright Horizons.
Part-time penalty leaves mothers behind
The 2019 Modern Families Index reveals that parents working part time – most of whom are women – have just a 21% chance of being promoted within the next three years, compared to 45% for their full-time counterparts.
The disparity in promotion rates between part-timers and full-timers has a major impact on career progression for mothers: the Index shows that the average mother waits two years longer for a promotion than the average father. This is the consequence of more mothers than fathers being in part-time work and threatens to frustrate recent efforts by government and many corporations to close the gender pay gap.
Poor job design and culture of presenteeism force parents to work extra hours
The Index also found that many parents grapple with unmanageable workloads owing, in part, to a workplace culture of presenteeism. 78% of parents are working beyond their contracted hours. Of those who put in extra work, 60% report that doing so is necessary to deal with their workload and over half (52%) said that working extra hours is part of their organisation’s culture.
There is also an unmet demand for flexible working among parents: 86% of parents want to work flexibly but only 49% of those surveyed do. For more than a third (37%) of parents, flexible working isn’t available in their workplaces, despite all employees having the statutory right to request flexible working arrangements.
Work takes heavy toll on family life
Unsurprisingly, working parents feel overwhelmed by the increasing demands of the modern workplace. Nearly half of parents (47%) said that work restricts their ability to spend time reading or playing with their children. 48% said it affects their relationship with their partner and more than a quarter (28%) said it led to arguments with their children.
This is exacerbated by the constant intrusion from technology on family time: 47% of respondents felt that the boundaries between work and home had become too blurred by technology.
Wellbeing of parents under threat from long hours culture
The figures also raise concerns about the physical wellbeing of parents in the UK. 47% said that work had noticeable negative impacts on the amount of sleep they could get; 47% said the long hours restricted the amount of exercise they were able to take; 43% said work had a detrimental effect on their diet.
Employers and government must take responsibility
Parents overwhelmingly agree that it is up to employers and the government to ease these workplace pressures: 90% of parents said that employers have a role to play and 92% said that the government has a responsibility to address these issues.
Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said:
Parents who work part-time and flexibly add immense value to an organisation. We have found that among Working Families member companies—which generally have excellent policies and practice around flexible working—part-time and flexible workers perform significantly higher than the average employee. However, this year’s Index shows the sad reality that very often, part-timers aren’t able to progress at work because a higher value is placed on full time work—and there is simply more of it. Compounding this problem is the fact that parents are often saddled with jobs that require them to work well beyond their contracted hours.”
James Tugendhat, Managing Director, International at Bright Horizons, said:
The Index shows that parents trying to juggle work and family commitments are getting a raw deal. The UK’s part-time stigma and long-hours culture renders them exhausted, stressed and unable to climb the career ladder. This applies especially to mothers.
“Encouraging pledges on flexible working have been made but the approach to date, however well intentioned, hasn’t lightened the load for working parents. Addressing this would have the potential to narrow the gender wage gap significantly. Companies’ fortunes are based on their ability to attract and retain the best and brightest employees. It’s time we wave goodbye to an office based 9-5 culture and embrace a more human-sized, agile approach.
Flexible working is not easily defined. This is because it is often seen by what it isn’t – not the 9-to-5, not the daily commute to a central workplace – as opposed to by what it is.
Nevertheless, people think they know it when they see it, and as a result certain working patterns or ways of working, such as flexi-time, working part-time hours, or working from home are regarded as types of ‘flexible working’.
The latest CIPD flexible working report looks at recent trends in flexible working, and concentrates on trends in when and where work is done.
Overall, the report suggests that while many people already benefit from flexible working, a significant proportion of the workforce are not being given the option to work flexibly.
Ultimately, informing managers of the many benefits of flexible working, and training them on how to manage flexible workers, is the most effective way of significantly increasing the quantity and quality of flexible working.
To this end, the CIPD is working with government and a range of stakeholders, including business lobby organisations, professional bodies, unions and key charities, as part of a Flexible Working Taskforce, with a remit to boost flexible working across the economy. The taskforce, which was established in early 2018 and is due to run until autumn 2019, will use its ability to collectively reach and influence hundreds of thousands of employers. It will highlight the wide-ranging business case for flexible working, while also promoting guidance on how to create more flexible jobs and how to manage flexible workers.
They work in low-paying jobs because they have no other choice.
A recent study shows that the global gender pay gap has increased to 32 percent, and projects that at this rate, women will have to wait another 217 years for the pay gap to close. It’s not just your own gender, but the gender makeup of your workplace that predicts your wages. Workers in female-dominated workplaces have been shown to be paid less than other workers. An industry’s pay level even starts to decrease when women take over a male-dominated field.
Some argue that the low pay for women is justified by the fact that ‘women’s work’ is generally less strenuous/hazardless work compared to men’s work, and that, in exchange for lower wages, they have better working conditions—especially those that allow a better work-life balance. Some well-meaning scholars argue that women sometimes forego higher pay to have that flexibility in their jobs—an argument sometimes extended to suggest that women voluntarily “choose” lower paying jobs to facilitate their “life choices” (for which read: to ‘take care of children’). Interestingly looking for an image to accompany this article, it was difficult to find one that didn’t have a woman holding a baby whilst sitting at a desk working on a laptop.
The study’s author, Dr. Heejung Chung has written the following blog to accompany her research.
It is true that women tend to work part-time more than men, but this doesn’t mean they’re actually being given flexibility to set their schedules at work, either in part-time or full-time jobs.
This is what I found in a recently published paper in the European Journal of Industrial Relations. Using data from across 27 European countries, I tested to see whether the gender of the worker, and the gender makeup of the workplace has an influence on workers’ access to flexible working arrangements—namely flexitime—the ability to control starting and ending times of your work. The results show that there were no significant differences between men and women in their access to flexitime across Europe—if anything men getting slightly better access. What’s more, workers in female-majority workplaces had the worst level of access to flexitime compared to their counterparts in male-majority workplaces or workplaces where men and women were equally represented.
The gap was significant: In some cases, working in female-dominated workplaces such as care work, primary education, or places where the work tends to be largely clerical meant you were only half as likely to have access to flexitime compared to other workplaces. This was the case for both men and women in those workplaces, and held true even when other factors such as skill levels, working hours, contract status, and other relevant factors were taken into account. Furthermore, female-dominated workplaces were worse off in terms of flexitime access in all of the 27 European countries investigated. It isn’t just flexitime. I also found similar results for other types of flexible working arrangements such as the ability to take time off work a couple of hours to tend to personal issues.
This isn’t just true in Europe: Studies dating back to the 1990s using data in the U.S. found similar results. So why does this myth of women and workers in female-dominated workplaces having better access to flexible working arrangements persist, despite the facts?
One reason is because of how the debate over flexible work has been framed. Many countries, including the U.K., have introduced the right to flexible working as a major way of addressing work-family issues for workers. Thus many assume that those who are in most need of family-friendly arrangements will be those who are most likely to have access to it. Given that in all countries, women still take up the bulk of the care and household responsibilities, people think they will have better access to these arrangements.
Employers tend to provide workers control over their work when they trust and believe that will contribute back to the company rather than to skive off work. As a result, this control is rewarded only to high-skill workers in top occupations. Since society still holds rather gendered views of men and women—believing that men’s priorities lies in breadwinning while women will prioritize their family life, employers are more reluctant to provide control over work time to women, believing they will use it to care for their families rather than use it to improve their work performance.
So what does this all mean? It means that workers in female-dominated workplaces are paid less, and they are worse off in having access to family-friendly policies that enable them to maintain their careers while meeting demands at home. This may also explain why so many women have to end up working part-time when they have children—it isn’t an unfettered life choice, but precisely because other options that can help them balance work with family life are not available to them. They have no other option but to reduce their hours. And in many countries, including the U.S., part-time work is usually accompanied by, you guessed it, lower pay.
A good example comes from a friend who had an administrative job in a predominantly female department. Despite the fact that her work could be done anywhere and any time, her boss would not let her work from home especially if it had anything to do with childcare reasons. This is despite within the same company, in other departments where it wasn’t quite female dominated, working from home was much more easily granted.
What can we do to change this? The example of the U.K. shows that the introduction of right to request flexible working alone does not help to enable flexible working access to workers, especially those who need it most. Employers need to see the vast benefits flexible working can provide to their company through recruiting and maintaining their workforce.
New legislation proposed by the European commission makes the burden of rejecting a request to flexible working lie with the employer—they need to provide justification as to why it was rejected rather than the workers needing to justify why it is needed. This could enable a better negotiation position for many workers for whom flexible working will be crucial in helping them navigate their work with family life, many of whom will be low paid women. In fact, I’ve found that when you provide women with flexitime or the ability to work from home, they are much less likely to reduce their working hours after childbirth.
Falling back on “choice” as an explanation for persistent gender inequality in the labour market and in wages is no longer tenable. Women are not choosing lower paying jobs due to their life choices. The current labour market and employers’ biases against them are leaving them without any real choices at all.
Dr. Heejung Chung is a reader in sociology and social policy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research at the University of Kent. She is the principal investigator of the project Work Autonomy, Flexibility, and Work-Life Balance.