Flexible working patterns no excuse for gender pay gaps

By Helen Letchfield, co-founder, Parent & Professional

With one in two employers reporting wide pay gaps than last year, employers can no longer afford to ignore ‘flexibility discrimination.’

According to analysis of the two-year gender pay gap figures, less than half of the UK’s biggest employers have succeeded in narrowing their gender pay gap. Many of those organisations have tried to explain away the disappointing figures on the grounds that they allow women to work flexibly.

Although this might explain why women earn less overall, it shouldn’t justify why 78% of companies pay are paying men more per hour than women. Indeed, HSBC has been dubbed the UK’s most unequal bank after seeing its mean pay gap grow to 61% - meaning women earn just 39p for every £1 taken home by men.

If there’s anything to be learned, it’s that the underlying issues driving pay disparity have yet to be addressed. Issues such as flexible working stigma and ‘seen to be there cultures’, which prevent women in particular from progressing into senior roles.

The problem with ‘seen to be there’ cultures

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, women returning to work after having a child are more likely to face discrimination. Around 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs across Britain every year and three-quarters of women report finding it harder to progress in their careers after having a baby.

One of the major reasons is the perception that if someone can no longer put in the hours they did before they had a child they will somehow become less committed or effective. Yet in reality, most women operating under the tight time constraints of having to leave work to get to the nursery or pick up from school at a certain time forces them to become much more, not less effective. Because of the way that not having the ‘luxury’ of working late forces them to prioritise and focus on those areas where they can most add value in the limited time they have. Rather than allowing themselves to get sucked into reactively responding to emails and other less important tasks, most women with children have to acquire and develop valuable prioritisation and productivity skills.

Even so, a third of employers avoid hiring women who they ‘fear’ might start a family soon. This makes it difficult for women to achieve the career progression so essential to addressing the gender pay gap.

Eliminating flexibility stigma

Fortunately, the organisations that recognise and are addressing these barriers to career progression are successfully reducing their gender pay gaps.

Madiha Sajid, chair of the Parents and Carers Together (PACT) network at UCL, which has reduced its mean gender pay gap, explains, “UCL is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the highest levels. Even so, there are still a number of barriers hindering women in particular from achieving career progression once they become a parent. Barriers such as the stigma associated with flexible working, which an lead to the assumption that those working part-time or from home are somehow less committed or ambitious.”

In response, UCL has been providing its maternity returners with career coaching workshops, a key part of which has been how to have a properly informed discussion with their manager about their options for working more flexibly and the importance of measuring their success according to outcomes, rather than hours worked.

Madiha says, “Female employees returning from maternity leave are now able to have a much more meaningful conversation with their manager, because the limitation of neither the manager of parent knowing what to ask for has been removed. 81% of those who attended the Parent & Professional workshops said it had helped them to feel more in control of their career.”

As a result, new mothers have become much more confident about getting what they need from both home and work to progress their careers, helping UCL to reduce its mean gender pay gap from 17.5% last year to 15.9% this year.

Make flexible working culturally acceptable

Supporting maternity returners to achieve career progression is an important first step. Much more difficult to achieve is the creation of parent-friendly, as opposed to just mother-friendly workplaces, where men feel just as empowered to work flexibly.

This is important because ‘daddy discrimination’, which sees some men being mocked after opting to work part-time to share childcare duties, also needs to be addressed. Only then will the entrenched stereotypes of men as breadwinners and women as carers that is fuelling the gender pay gap come to an end.

Fortunately, with nearly a third of the Sunday Times Top 20 Best Companies to Work For now offering school hour contracts to all employees and just under half of millennial fathers saying they would take a pay cut for a better work-life balance, society is changing. The onus is now on employers to catch up.

The shift towards men contributing at home also stands to benefit men, with a study finding that ‘hands on dads’ are not only happier and healthier, but less likely to break up with their partners. Those who took sole charge of parenting for at least a few times a week before their baby turned one were as much as 40% less likely to break up with their partners, regardless of all other factors.

Fathers who are both engaged and present also create all kinds of emotional benefits for their children. They break down gender stereotypes, teaching their daughters they’re not less than boys and their sons that dishes and laundry aren’t ‘women’s work’, just part of being an adult. All of which is essential to allowing men to break down unhealthy and potentially harmful stereotypes, so that flexible working becomes the norm.

For top-tips on creating parent-friendly workplaces, you can download our special report Closing the Gender Pay Gap, featuring case study from UCL.

Download now to find out which forward-thinking employers are offering school hour contacts to all employees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *