Social mobility through flexible working and training

It’s been a busy week of news with a lot of focus on social mobility and inequality. The Social Mobility Commission’s report concluded that successive governments have failed to make social mobility the cornerstone of domestic policy and that long-term progress “has too often been sacrificed to short-term change”. The report uses a traffic light system to define progress in four areas, including work. No area gets a green light. Work gets a red light. The Commission talks about stagnating wages [and public sector pay has been very much in the spotlight this week] and the amount of people stuck on low wages. Many of these are women and women make up the majority of public sector workers. It also talks about regional inequality in jobs with London and the South East having more high quality jobs.

Career progression is vital for social mobility and that requires employers to invest in training and to highlight career pathways for all workers. That includes those who are working flexibly. Another report released this week by Timewise talks about the lack of flexible high quality jobs advertised. hears regularly from people who face real difficulties in securing high quality jobs which offer flexibility, particularly outside the London area. Too many are forced to take jobs below their skills level or are left in jobs which are flexible, but have little hope of career progression because the next step up is either not signposted or doesn’t allow the flexibility they need. Allied to that is the huge issue of affordable, quality childcare which might meet the needs of flexible working. There’s a lot of talk about agile working in more senior jobs, but that needs to be backed up by the appropriate childcare. At the moment, the childcare elements seems to be too much of an afterthought.

There is report after report published about the skills shortage in the UK. Many women are already skilled and experienced, but may have gone into jobs which don’t match their skills because of a lack of flexibility. Many are stuck in flexible jobs because of a lack of similarly flexi jobs further up the ladder or a lack investment in training so they can climb the next rung up. Others can’t get back into the workforce after taking time out.

The impact of the lack of well-thought through career pathways for women can be seen clearly in the continuing gender pay gap, which is also influenced by many other factors, such as the sectors women are more likely to end up in. Part of that is also the result of perceived flexibility, public sector jobs being considered to be more flexible. The gender pay gap extends all the way into retirement, as the Prudential report out this week also shows.

Some employers have grasped the bigger picture of flexible working and how it has to extend from recruitment to training and career progression all the way to the top. They can see the links to the skills shortages they are facing which will only grow more urgent in the coming years. They are aware that gender diversity is in their interests. They have put initiatives in place; they understand that this is something that needs to be constantly worked on and reviewed. It is not easy. It requires constant dedication. But the most important part is seeing the case for it and having the will to change things.

For too long women have felt they have basically had to apologise for having to work flexibly. Men, seeing the impact on their careers, have been put off applying to work flexibly. We need to face the fact that this is how work needs to be in our modern society and find a way to make it work from the start to the end of our working lives.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of

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