What needs to change for working parents

A recent survey shows that, although many parents need flexible working and want to progress, a significant number are not able to.

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The Working Families/Child Poverty Action Group findings tally with workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey results.

They suggest that many employers are failing to develop those who are working less than full-time hours.

One woman’s employer, for example, refused to pay for her AAT course when she reduced from full time to part time. Her responsibilities were not reduced, but her pay was cut.

Many have left their jobs as a result of lack of flexibility and that usually means a big drop in pay. Several had to go self employed to get the flexibility they needed. It was often difficult to get back in once they had left and in particular to find flexible new jobs. Paula left the workforce when she became a single mum because there was no flexibility and because of high childcare costs. She had to wait until her mum moved in with her before she could return to work.

Alison works in administration in the beauty industry, but had to take a lower level self employed job when she went part time which she was overqualified for. She is earning a lot less than before she had children.

Caroline was a team leader in a large corporate financial company, but couldn’t get the flexibility she needed. She was benchmarked for a more senior role when she went on maternity leave, but was only offered full time work or four days a week 9am-5pm. She chose to take redundancy and is now a self employed medical secretary. She earns significantly less.

What needs to change

workingmums.co.uk asked mums what needs to change so that they don’t have to walk away from jobs that they have years of experience in and take significant pay reductions. Their experience and words speak for themselves.

Sarah was a marketing manager and on track for a leadership position until she asked to reduce her hours. She was told she couldn’t manage a team in a part-time capacity. She left. She says: “I think organisations need to be braver and try to accommodate flexible working applications at a senior level.  I had suggested a job share for my old role as the workload would still be met across five days but this was considered too much of a ‘risk’.

More options for flexible working need to be considered, including job shares, reduced hours, working from home options, etc. Ten years ago ‘working from home‘ wasn’t viewed too favourably, but now, as people seek a greater work-life balance, some working from home is the norm in most companies. It will take some companies to really put their faith in their people, recognise their previous working ethos and realise that keeping good people will mean loyalty, a strong work ethic and the desire to progress.”

Anthea left her job in property services when training opportunities were taken away after she applied for flexible working. She left and now has a job where she has a lot of flexibility and earns more than she did before.

She says: “Employers need to be more more open minded and trusting. It’s hard to trust that something will work when they’ve never seen it in action! A company or even a department just needs to take the leap and be pro-flex so that everyone else can witness the fact that it’s bothering by to be scared of and that businesses don’t crash and burn when mums be mums as well as being business women. I have much more respect for my company and if anything, they have offered me something that nobody else can compete with, with the recruitment market being so competitive these days, it’s deemed an incredible benefit that can not only help with retention of top staff, but also a tool to attract new potential employees.”

Reduction of hours

Many women who reduced their hours in their original job found that their job responsibilities were not lowered.

Tara was made redundant from her HR job and took a new job which was advertised as full time, but she negotiated it down to school hours. She says: “Finding another role that offered part time hours is like panning for gold.”

She earns considerably less pro rata than before she had children. She says: “In 17 years of working with many different managers I have only witnessed one manager embrace flexible working. Even more disappointing is how I have witnessed some HR managers deal with flexible working. With little to no regard and yet HR is a field dominated by females. I keep a close eye on the job boards and notice there are no part time HR opportunities above administrator level. Many of my colleagues have had to return to work as administrators just to work the hours they need to care for their children. I have, actually, been one of the fortunate ones. But it requires me to put in extra hours at home.”

Aliya held middle management positions until she had children. She tried working part time, but found she was too conscientious and was working on her days off for no pay and not having time with her children – the worst of both worlds. She trained as a fitness instructor and now works from home so she can support her teenage daughter who suffers from anxiety.

Changing attitudes

For many it was a change of mindset that was needed. Ruby worked in a senior position in the hospitality industry when she was made redundant and applied for an alternative role. She was told she would have to work variable shifts and days, but said she could not do variable days due to childcare. She didn’t get the role. She now works in another industry and her salary has more than halved, although she works the same hours. Asked what needs to change, she says:  “Attitudes, mainly of those who work full time and expect everyone else available ‘as needed’ rather than ‘when possible’.”

Mandy worked in banking before she had children, then became a childminder. As the pay is so low she has just started a new job. Asked what needs to change, she says: “I feel workplaces would have a lower staff turnover and more commitment from working mums if they offered school working hours or working from home hours. I also feel more women would go back to work and not be on benefits. I know it is argued that it is not cost effective to businesses to allow this working pattern, but feel something has to change.”

Alison works in healthcare and has no family support nearby.  She says: “There are not enough flexible jobs for women and there is a horrible culture in a lot of places that either says “well I did it” (meaning granny did it) or don’t mention you have children. What needs to change is attitudes as I am sure it’s already illegal to discriminate against working women, but it happens all the time. Unfortunately, the women who get to the top just act like the men and pull up the drawbridge. The status quo is not being challenged in the real world no matter what they say on Women’s Hour. In most places there is a hierarchy or clique that categorises a worker’s value and this is generally higher for full time permanent staff. Equality is a goal rarely met.”

Barbara says she was forced to step down from her fairly senior job in the motor industry when she was pregnant due to negative attitudes. She requested a flexible role, but was refused so she found a part-time role in another industry. She takes home less than a third of the wage she had before having children. She has not seen any flexible or part time jobs in the motor trade. She says: “I feel that employers in the motor trade industry need to have more of a positive approach towards female managers with children they don’t think we can do both manage and look after children. It is still a very sexist industry.”

*Names have been changed.

workingmums.co.uk’s jobs board advertises part time jobs, and jobs with companies who will consider flexible working. Search today.

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