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Britain’s flexible and part-time working arrangements are failing to meet the needs of working women and men.
That is the headline from research by the Equal Opportunities Commission. It goes on to state that 5.6 million part-time workers – or four out of five of Britain’s seven million part-time workers – are working in jobs that do not use their potential.
The report, Britain’s Hidden Brain Drain, shows how part-time female workers are earning 40 per cent less per hour than men working full time – about the same pay gap as 30 years ago – and “how employers are failing to make best use of their considerable skills and experience.” The bottom line is that, while raving about the latest technological gadgets and gizmos, many employers are still stuck in the past in how they think about work.
But while all manner of business organisations and individuals line up to shake their heads at such reports and agree it’s “A Bad Thing”, on the ground little is changing. That means it is down to all employees, and perhaps particularly women embarking on maternity leave, to address the situation with their employers.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out how hard and how expensive it can be to find replacement staff and train them up. It surely makes sense to keep a good working relationship going with an employee throughout the maternity leave. But this takes work from both sides. One answer is flexible working, still something many firms struggle to adopt in practice, the thinking being that to do a job properly requires employees to be in the office from nine till five.
Arthur Allen is managing director of Listawood, a Norfolk manufacturing company with just over 200 staff. “Work patterns at Listawood are extraordinarily diverse – and we’ve found that flexibility is a two-way street,” he says. “It isn’t just about us allowing our staff to work the hours they need – what we’ve found is that staff repay our flexibility with a commitment to help the company when it needs it.” He says Listawood was built through the work of part-time mothers rejoining the work force as their children grew up and that many of the firm’s team leaders, including the production director, joined the company as part-timers and have contributed enormously to the company’s development.”
Not all employers are as enlightened. Joanna Farmer, 33, explains what happened to her. “I was a divisional manager in an education institution before having a baby. My experience of attempting to work flexibly after returning from maternity leave was unsuccessful and humiliating; I had to undergo a whole day of interviewing in order to return to my old job, only for it to be given to a junior colleague because I had expressed a preference for reduced hours. The only flexible option offered was for me to become a PA, even though I had a good degree, 10 years management experience and had handled million-pound budgets. Although I am currently in a management position, it has taken me years to get back to the level I was at before my maternity leave.”
So experiences differ but the facts remain. Business employs people. Half those people are women and many of them have babies. A considered and planned approach by expectant mothers working with their employers can help to ensure that the skills are retained and help put an end to the brain drain for the good of all.