Flexible working is not just for mums

 

Ahead of the deadline next spring for British companies to report on their gender pay gap, more and more interesting reports are emerging about the true picture of pay disparity in the UK.

Some are more surprising than others – Virgin Money were one of the first companies to report, disclosing a 38.4% disparity while the Church of England recently revealed that their employees can look forward to earning 41% more if they are men!

While we can certainly hope that this new transparency will cause a shift in this obstinate problem, some of the debate around how to tackle the gender wage gap is frustratingly regressive.

One of the most oft-cited challenges for women is the need for flexible working to enable them to build their careers around their families. This, it is claimed, would allow women to compete with men without being subject to ‘the motherhood penalty’. But this view is old-fashioned and counter-productive. Considered from this perspective, flexible working is still seen as ‘second-best’ to being tied to your desk for eight hours a day, something workplaces concede to offer only those with families as a sign of their generosity and commitment to their HR-driven equality policy.

The truth is that in 2017 it’s no longer just women who stand to benefit from flexible working arrangements. In September, the largest ever study of the UK workforce revealed that 87% of those surveyed (that’s men AND women) wished they could work more flexibly.

Study after study has shown that the benefits of flexible working far outweigh the risks, for both employees and employers, from increasing productivity, reducing overheads, promoting loyalty and improving work-life balance. And business are catching on. The Telegraph reported earlier this year that by the end of 2017 more than 50% of UK-based businesses will have flexible working policies in place.

So why is flexible working still seen as a sacrifice for so many employers?

While it will always be true that some jobs need you to be there in person, technology has transformed the way most traditional office-based roles can now be delivered, and employers who ignore the multitude of benefits that come with offering their staff a flexible approach are at risk of losing their competitive edge. There are a multitude of communications tools that allow us to work effectively at a distance. In my field of work – Public Relations, we are communicators at heart who should not be phased by the challenge of building relationships at a distance. In fact, one of the best client relationships I ever had was with someone on a different continent who I only met twice in the two years we worked together.

Flexible working means more time to focus on what really matters, putting an end to an hour-plus commute that saps your energy before you even begin the working day; a diverse team who, based in different locations, bring different perspectives to creative discussions; and a passionate, committed workforce. With more and more employees calling for flexible working, companies who are slow to embrace it risk not just looking old-fashioned and narrow-minded, but losing out on the best talent.

It’s time we stopped saying that flexible working is only of benefit for working mums and embraced it as the future of work that benefits employers and employees. And in doing so we might just nudge towards to closing that gender pay gap.

*Rebecca Donnelly is head of practice at PR firm Tyto and a working mum of one. Twitter: @RebDons



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