- Working mums feel trapped by lack of flexibility

“We expect women to work like they don’t have kids and raise kids like they don’t work.” ~ Amy Westervelt.

For November’s blog post, we’re throwing the discussion over to you.

A recent survey of 2000 parents on the jobsite workingmums.co.uk, found that 80% of working mums felt trapped in their current role as they didn’t feel confident they would find another role with the flexibility they needed. It also found that 57% of working mums felt they hadn’t progressed in their work since having children.

The survey comes at a time when Parliament is under pressure to make flexible working (the right to request a variation to their working arrangements, rather than flexi time) a ‘day one’ right, with all new jobs to be advertised as open to flexibility where possible (currently, employees must be in a job for 26 weeks before they can make a request to work flexibly).

In response to the survey’s findings, Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said: “Much more needs to be done to widen access to flexible working so that it becomes the norm for organisations and available to all employees.”

The results of the survey do focus largely on the challenges experienced by working mums, but it is important to remember that flexibility in the workplace is of growing importance to working dads too, who share more parental responsibilities than any generation before them.

Let’s look at the main challenges, barriers to success and considerations the survey’s respondents noted.

Flexible roles are hard to find

Over three quarters of working mums (80%) stated that they felt stuck in the job they were in because they didn’t believe they would find a new role with the same degree of flexibility.

Despite the need to work around the needs of children, a growing desire for flexible working options across all age groups, a move towards better work/life balance, and in many cases, the need to care for both children and elderly relatives simultaneously (see our October blog post), the UK job market still offers a shortage of suitable roles to suit these modern requirements.

There’s not enough flexibility

Although 59% of working mums stated that flexible working would help them to progress in their roles, 43% said they did not have enough flexibility at their current jobs.

The survey reported that 21% of working mums polled worked full time with no option for flexibility, while 23% worked full time with some option for flexibility. Just 1% worked full time from home, and 3% worked full time with some home working.

But for working mums, a pain point is that it isn’t purely about being available for both ends of the school run. In many cases, it is having the option to take time off to care for children when they are sick, or the school needs to close due to poor weather or emergencies (i.e.: burst water mains, loss of heating or electricity).

We hear you asking… where are the dads, and why can’t they help? In contrast, almost half of the dads surveyed (46%) worked full time with no flexibility, while 36% worked full time with some flexibility. One might query why flexible options seem less available for working dads.

In a previous survey of 2000 working mums by supplement brand Haliborange, it was found that – 1 in 10 mothers were forced to send their children to school when they were sick, as they simply could not take the time off work. Additionally, 1 in 10 had received written warnings from their bosses after taking time off to care for a sick child.

I’ve seen a lack of progression

The survey showed that 57% of working mums felt they had not progressed in their careers since having children.

Although many women already enjoyed the benefits of flexible working and stated that they could not continue to work without those flexible options in place, the sting in the tail is that many also believe flexible working has affected their career progression.

Some women are told that roles they previously carried out on a full-time basis, are not available on a part-time or flexible basis. For some, progression is not an available option for flexible roles.

Furthermore, some working mums find themselves unable to apply for promotions due to lack of flexibility with regards to hours, work locations, and options to work remotely where needed – all vital considerations if they also need to commit to childcare and school runs, for example.

What about the next generation?

All UK employees have the legal right to request flexible hours once they have worked for an organisation for at least 26 weeks, but for many new applicants, flexible arrangements from the first day are near the top of their list of considerations when looking for a role.

34% of working mums confirmed that they researched flexible working policies before applying to an organisation, with 31% stating they would not have accepted their current job if it wasn’t for the flexible working options that came with it.

But this favouring of flexibility is not only reserved to working mums – the survey found that 41% of under-21’s polled also researched flexible working policies of organisations before applying for roles. 34% said they would not accept a role without flexibility. This is arguably the next wave of working parents, planning for their futures.

Flexible Means Flexible

Some employers, rather than creating roles that suit flexible working, simply squeeze a full-time role into reduced hours. Such action puts affected employees in a position where they simply cannot produce what is required of them in the hours they have, they miss out or find themselves ‘passed over’ for opportunities in favour of colleagues who work more hours and are able to meet tight deadlines as a result, or they experience resentment from colleagues who feel they are letting them down by failing to produce within their reduced hours. This is echoed by the survey’s revelation that 33% of all parents surveyed felt discriminated against for working flexibly.

Gillian Nissim, founder of workingmums.co.uk and workingdads.co.uk, said: “Our survey shows how significant flexible working is becoming in job searches… As skills shortages become larger in many sectors, employers should take note of the demand for flexible working and the push for greater flexibility, taking into account all the many forms it can come in.”

Whilst we appreciate that this article refers to the challenges met by working mothers; the way in which families share parental responsibilities has changed over the years and it appears that dads are looking for a better level of flexibility in the workplace too. For further reading, please click here.

Over to you…

Do you feel working mums are in a disadvantaged position? Are they overlooked for promotions, or unable to apply due to little or no flexibility of working arrangements? Should working mums (and dads) accept that taking time out to have a family is going to have a direct impact on their career progression?

Finally, should flexible job roles become the norm for everyone? What steps could your organisation take in the meantime to help close the gap?