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Employers Must End the Stigma Against Mothers Working Part-Time


Mothers in the UK continue to face greater obstacles than fathers in their careers if they embrace part time and flexible working, according to a major new study.

The 2019 Modern Families Index: Employer Report published today by Working Families and Bright Horizons highlights the urgent need for employers to offer flexible and part time work without penalty.

Mothers disproportionately disadvantaged by working part-time

The Index reveals that part-time work negatively impacts promotion and affects more mothers than fathers – for every man in the Index working part time, there were 10 women. The intersection of hours and pay is also well documented, with the part-time pay gap widening to 30 per cent by the time a child is 13. When organisations value presenteeism, reduced-hours workers are at a disadvantage. Too often, being visible and working late are still the best way to get on at work.

Advice for employers:

Now: Challenge assumptions that reduced hours means reduced commitment. Start tracking performance appraisals to ensure that flexible workers, and in particular part-time workers, are not penalised by a workplace culture that values long hours and presenteeism

Medium term: Assess the career opportunities for part-time workers. Are there clear routes of progression to senior levels for staff that work part-time? Demonstrate it is possible to truly progress whilst working part-time
Long term: Develop strategies to ensure men understand the part-time and flexible working options open to them and encourage them to use them.

Employers must embrace flexible working

The Index clearly shows the power of flexibility as a retention tool and as an attractor with both mothers and fathers reporting that they would stay in their jobs because of the flexibility they had. Parents said that flexibility is also a great tool for boosting employee happiness (68 per cent), effort (51 per cent) and performance (55 per cent).

However, flexibility can also act as a trap, confining parents to jobs because they are unable to find new roles that will allow flexibility. In some cases, parents are downgrading to find the flexibility they want. Employers must recognise that flexible working can only succeed where human-sized jobs are the norm and where work-life balance is promoted.

Advice for employers:

Now: 2019 sees the review of the right to request flexible working. Employers should ensure that their flexible working policies are up to date, available and transparent, and that all employees know that they have this right

Medium term: Are working practices supportive of work-life balance? Once flexible working arrangements are agreed, whether formal and informal, how are they monitored and managed? Is working flexibly delivering a better work-life balance for your workers?

Long term: Understand the culture of the organisation and bear in mind changing expectations. The Index shows that younger parents have different values when it comes to parenting and balancing work and family. Are you set to meet these changing expectations? Who is setting the culture presently, and how will this change in the future?

James Tugendhat, Managing Director, International at Bright Horizons, said:

“Employers must ensure that part time and flexible working is embraced in a gender-neutral way. We need the workplace to keep pace with parents’ ever-greater need for agile working patterns. With communications technology enabling anywhere, any-time work, sticking to rigid schedules and locations is no longer necessary and could be counter-productive. It is time to dethrone the full-time model and recognise that work doesn’t need to fit into a five-day-a-week package.”