This year Workingmums.co.uk celebrates its 10th birthday. In that space of time so much has changed for women in the workforce and so much still has to. The main change is in the number of women working. Some 71% of mums now work, a figure that has been slowly rising over the last decade. Many work full time, particularly those with older children. Some 42.3% of mums with children under five now work full time, compared to 52.9% with a youngest dependent child aged between 11 and 18. Interestingly, in 2014 36.6% of women with children under the age of one worked full time, but this figure dropped to 20.6% of women with children aged one year old. The ONS says one explanation for this could be that women with children under a year old may take maternity leave as full-time workers, but either do not return to work or return in a part-time capacity when their maternity leave has finished. The majority of mums still work part time, though. Some 54.3% of mums work part time, according to the most recent Office for National Statistics.
The numbers of mums who work decrease the more children a family has, but since 2007, women with children have been more likely to work than those without children, according to figures from the ONS. A third of working mums are now the main breadwinners in their family, many of them single parents, although working mums tend to be concentrated in lower paid jobs. The ONS says lower middle skilled jobs are the most common types of occupation for mothers in general, with 44.5% of all mothers working in jobs that include care workers, retail assistants and teaching assistants. Some 28.1% of mothers work in high skilled jobs, 18.1% in upper middle skilled and 9.3% in low skilled occupations.
Here we look at the top 10 positive developments for working mums over the last 10 years, acknowledging that there is still definite room for improvement in several areas, particularly the amount of discrimination still faced by working mums, availability of good quality part-time jobs, advertising of flexible jobs and rising childcare costs as well as lack of availability of childcare that fits parents’ working patterns as that becomes more flexible:
1. Flexible working extended – in June 2014 the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees. Previously it was only available to parents and carers. The aim of the extension was to reframe flexible working as a business benefit rather than a benefit restricted only to those workers with caring responsibilities, to combat ill treatment of flexible workers [mainly women], including sidelining of women [the so-called ‘mummy track’] and discrimination and to address perceived resentment of parents by their colleagues. Allied to the extension of flexible working has been the implementation by some employers of training in managing flexible teams in acknowledgement of the different challenges involved in supervising mobile workers.
2. Shared Parental Leave – introduced in April 2015 in recognition of the links between equality at work and at home. It allows dads and mums to share parental leave in the year after their baby is born. It follows on from additional paternity leave which increased the amount of leave available to dads. The key issue remains how this is financed. Several employers have enhanced SPL to encourage take-up by dads. SPL has brought a renewed focus on dads’ role in childcare as figures show growing numbers of dads are working flexibly and sharing childcare, particularly younger dads. Nevertheless, Workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey still shows only a very small number of dads work part time [3.5%], demonstrating that it is still the social norm for mums to take on the prime parenting role.
3. Technology. Technology has developed hugely since 2006, with many workers now working remotely at least part of the week due to availability of smartphones, ipads, laptops, conference call and webinar services and cloud-based services which allow workers to access emails almost anywhere, share documents and dial into conference calls remotely. Alongside this has been a growth in virtual businesses where employees all work remotely. That includes Workingmums.co.uk! The growth of technology has led to a huge surge in the number of mums setting up and growing their own businesses, mainly from home. Working mums now constitute one of the largest growth areas for start-ups. Of course, for every positive there is a negative and technology has also meant the rise of the “always on” culture.
4. Increased focus on equality at work: as more women remain in or return to the workplace, there has been more of a focus on equality at work and it remains high on the media agenda. Issues relating to working parents such as childcare costs and shared parenting have risen up the political agenda. Last year saw the launch of the Women’s Equality Party which has a range of policies relating to working families. Working women were a key target group of all the political parties in the last general election, with many promising policies relating to areas such as childcare and equal pay. One result is the introduction of gender pay audits coming in later this year.
5. Women on boards – in 2011 Lord Davies published his report on the representation of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies. His target figure of 25% by 2015 was reached, although mainly due to a growth in female non-executive directors rather than women coming up through the company ranks. The target has now been extended to 33% for FTSE 350 companies by 2020. The target has brought increased media attention on diversity at the top of UK companies, aided and abetted by a number of lobby groups, including the 30% Club, and a growing focus on diversity in general, with the most progressive companies acknowledging the need for greater diversity at all levels. There have also been a number of research reports highlighting the business case for greater diversity, for instance, the links between greater boardroom diversity and profits.
6. Women returners – in 2006 there was not much business support available to professional women who had taken a career break and were struggling to get back to work. In the last few years, particularly the last year, employers have woken up to the overlooked talent pool that these women represent and have launched a number of returner initiatives. The organisation Women Returners has been behind many of these.
7. Practical initiatives to promote women. There has been a growth in the number of organisations across an increasing number of sectors, including more traditionally male ones such as law and STEM-related industries, who have launched initiatives aimed at recruiting, retaining and promoting more women. That includes women’s or other employee networks which feed back to senior leadership, promotion of positive – but realistic – role models and use of mentor figures.
8. Smart working – allied to technological breakthroughs and the extension of flexible working has been a move towards smart working. Smart working is defined as a way of working “that delivers more efficiency and effectiveness in work organisation, service delivery and organisational agility, as well as benefits for working people”. Smart working is about new ways of working using new tools, new processes and new approaches to management and teamwork. Organisations such as Flexibility.co.uk have been leading the way in taking advantage of modern technology and the 24/7 global workplace to promote best practice in this area. Just this month, a smart working code of practice was published to support organisations in implementing smart working principles.
9. Family support and well-being initiatives – growing numbers of companies are looking at the way they support working parents, including implementing programmes to support women going on maternity leave and returning to work, carers’ initiatives, support with childcare and well-being programmes. Carers’ initiatives have come to the fore as the workforce ages and many parents find themselves facing childcare and elder care issues.
10. Focus on best practice – there has been an increase in the number of awards schemes, such as Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Awards which aim to share best practice in family friendly working and also in the number of awards celebrating women in business.