Flexible Working ‘Shouldn’t be Just a Patronising Nod to Mums’

Women and Equalities Select Committee have today released the findings of the Gender Pay Gap Inquiry, which calls for all jobs to allow flexible working “as a default” in order to eliminate the gender pay gap.  Other proposals include a recommendation for fathers to be offered three months non-transferrable, well-paid paternity leave so that men and women are able to share childcare more equally.


The report, by a cross-party Committee of MPs, highlights the lack of effective policy in many of the areas that contribute to the gender pay gap. It finds that the key causes of pay differentials are: the part-time pay penalty; women’s disproportionate responsibility for childcare and other forms of unpaid caring; and the concentration of women in highly feminised, low paid sectors like care, retail and cleaning.

Although the Government has committed to eliminating the 19.2% pay gap within a generation, it has remained at around the same level for the past four years.

Women aged over 40 are most affected by the gender pay gap, with women aged 50-59 facing a 27% differential. Evidence suggests that the barriers to well-paid work currently experienced by women over 40 will continue unless action is taken to address the root causes of the gender pay gap.

The report concluded that:

  • Supporting men and women to share childcare and other forms of unpaid caring more equally is one of the most effective policy levers in reducing the gender pay gap.
  • Many women are trapped in low paid, part-time work below their skill level. This contributes to pay disparities and the under-utilisation of women’s skills costs the UK economy up to 2% GDP, around £36 billion.
  • Not enough is being done to support women returning to work if they have had time out of the labour market.
  • Too little attention has been focused on the situation of women working in low-paid, highly feminised sectors like care, retail and cleaning. Until their rates of pay and progression improve, the gender pay gap will not be eliminated.

Chair of the Committee, Maria Miller, MP said:

“It is not that women are choosing to go into low-paid working, but it’s often the only sort of working that is available flexibly.

“The gender pay gap is holding back women and that isn’t going to change unless the Government changes its policies now. The pay gap represents a massive loss to the UK’s economy and we must address it in the face of an ageing workforce, a skills crisis and the need for a more competitive economy.

“So we see in the care sector that 80% of workers are women because it can offer the sort of flexible jobs that fit around family commitments. But what that actually means is that many of those women are not using all of their skills.

“As a country we face a productivity crisis and if we’re going to increase our productivity we have to make sure those women are using their skills better.

If the Government is serious about long-term, sustainable growth it must invest in tackling the root causes of the gender pay gap.”

There is scope for optimism though. The report finds that attitudes to work and caring are changing. Employers are increasingly recognising that workplaces need to change and that flexible working benefits men, women and the bottom line. This does not just mean part-time work, which the report found was underpaid.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society welcomed the report, saying:

“The Committee is rightly focussing on the unequal impact of caring roles as a major cause of the gender pay gap.  We particularly welcome the recommendation that all jobs should be flexible by default but we think that this should be backed up with additional regulation as a requirement on employers.

“A dedicated period of well paid leave for fathers would also be transformational for many families and enable mums and dads to share care as they choose to.  Fawcett research shows that the motherhood penalty is a strong feature of our workplaces with 46% of people saying women become less committed to their jobs when they  become a mother but 29% say men become more committed when they become fathers.  4 in 10 dads said they do not currently get the flexibility they need.

“The focus on low paid work, particularly in the care sector is essential if we are to address the undervaluing of work traditionally done by women. An industrial strategy is a good first step but we want to see a strategic investment in our care and childcare infrastructure.  This would help to close the gender pay gap and grow our economy. Only then will we see caring work properly valued.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“If we don’t tackle problems like occupational segregation, the motherhood pay penalty and barriers to more equal parenting, the gender pay gap will take decades to close.”

Absence Management Expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence said:

“It’s great to see flexible working being hailed as the solution to the gender pay gap, but disappointing that the committee have not put sufficient focus on the fact that flexible working has benefits for businesses too.  

“A recent report[i] by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation suggests that by 2017 over half of organisations in the UK will adopt flexible working and that by 2020 over 70 per cent will have followed suit.  The report found that flexible working can result in increased productivity, improved employee wellbeing, talent attraction and retention.  

“Flexible working shouldn’t just be seen as a patronising ‘nod to retain Mums’ forced on bosses in a time of high employment.  Both men and women are able to make a valuable contribution to the workforce when working flexibly, and we welcome the reports conclusion that being a parent is equally important to Fathers.”  

[i] http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/articles/2016/working-9am-5pm-no-longer-the-way-to-make-a-living/


Author: Editorial Team

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