Flexibility for women ‘could boost economy’

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EMPLOYERS are missing out on a huge pool of talent because of their refusal to make minor changes to working hours to make them more family-friendly, according to a new report.

Research by the IPPR thinktank suggests there is a lack of part-time work available in highly skilled jobs.

Two-thirds of working women are unable to vary the time they start and finish work while a quarter say they cannot easily take one or two hours away from work to deal with family emergencies.

It describes women being stuck on a “mummy track”, working part-time in jobs that are below their skill level.

The failure to provide a better working environment for women is also shown to be a drain on the taxpayer.

The IPPR calculates that a five percentage point increase in the number of working mums in full-time employment would benefit the Treasury to the tune of £700 million through higher tax revenues and lower spending on benefits.

Dalia Ben-Galim, IPPR associate director, said: “Employers are missing out on top talent and highly qualified women are working in low-skilled jobs. That’s a missed opportunity for both employers and employees.

“How work is arranged, and employees’ level of autonomy over working hours, can have a big impact on how well people reconcile paid work with other commitments.

“An important indicator for flexibility is how employees’ hours are set, and who has control over this.

“For example, fixed starting times set by an employer may conflict with the varying and changing needs of families.

“Flexible working in its current, reduced-hours form, simply isn’t flexible enough.

“The prevalence of rigid scheduling, especially in low-income jobs, often means that even reduced-hours work is not sufficient for meeting the more spontaneous demands of care-giving.”

The report shows that while a similar share of female workers in the UK are able to determine their own hours compared with other European economies, half as many UK working women are able to adapt their hours, compared to women working in Sweden and the Netherlands.

Four in 10 women working part-time in the UK do so because they have caring responsibilities compared to just six per cent of men.

The report also suggests that more than a third of women in part-time jobs are not happy with the number of hours they are working. A quarter of those in part-time work want to work fewer hours while more than 10 per cent would like additional hours.

More than half of working women in the UK are in jobs where their company sets their hours and they have no opportunity to alter them.

This compares to 35 per cent in Sweden and fewer than a third in the Netherlands. Far more women working in those two countries have the flexibility to adapt their working hours within limits set by their employer.

The IPPR report says: “The key argument of this report is that flexible work practices can result in higher rates of employment, and better matches between qualifications and job skill-level, for women and mothers.

“As women and mothers represent a group who are underrepresented in workplaces across Europe, improving the scale and quality of their representation in the labour market promises significant net gains for the economy.”