By Mandy Garner, Editor, WorkingMums.co.uk
This year’s survey by WorkingMums shows that over a fifth of mums have had to switch jobs due to a flexible working request being rejected. Over half of these said they felt the reasons given were unjustified. The survey also shows a huge number of women are thinking of starting their own business or retraining and that those who have taken time out of their career to care for children face a struggle getting back into their field, let alone at anywhere near the level they were at before they left.
The survey also shows that the norm is still very much that women do part time and that their partners don’t do part time, even four days a week, although an increasing number have some flexible working.
There may be many reasons for this, not least of which would be financial. Yet the survey also shows the number of women who are the main breadwinners in their families – and are not single parents – is rising. Another possible reason is the lack of support – peer or otherwise – for men who want to work flexibly and fear among men that their careers could suffer, as women’s undoubtedly have.
The survey underlines the importance of flexible working for working mums with 58% choosing it as the most important factor for their career progression, up from 52% in 2014. Yet if they work less than full time – particularly when others are working more than full time – their career is likely to suffer.
What is the solution? It depends on what our priorities are. On the one hand, do we want women to remain in low numbers at the top of organisations and have little say in how they are run, do we want men to be mainly excluded from childcare, do we want, in effect, the status quo?
On the other hand, should we be encouraging both parents to work full time in a culture where full time is increasingly all the time? A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report suggests that by 2020 both parents of low-income families will have to work full time if they are to climb out of poverty and that part-time work may become a luxury. Single parents will not be able to get out of poverty unless they progress out of low-income jobs even if they work full time.
Where do children fit into this? Are they just to be seen as a bit of an inconvenience? The JRF reports calls for greater flexibility to enable parents to work full time and more career progression in flexible jobs in the absence of any other government support.
Wealthier parents are more fortunate and will have the choice over whether both parents should work, work full time or one – or both – should work part time. Overwhelmingly, research shows parents want some sense of time for family life.
Government policy and employers need to take all of these issues into account and make it easier for people to find some way of working that fits around family life. Employers increasingly see the links between greater equality in the workplace and equality in the home. The problem is how you move the status quo on so that we don’t have this ridiculously lopsided position where large numbers of women resign themselves to a more torturous career path, discrimination and, in some cases, poverty while men miss out on family life because they are working all hours.