Category Archives: blog

Blog posts related to the WAF Project

Want more women in top positions? Provide them with more flexibility at work

Heejung Chung, University of Kent

The recent BBC report on the pay of its top earners laid bare the disparities between men and women’s earnings. But it should come as no surprise. The gender pay gap has been stubbornly stagnant over the past decade. According to the EU (which calculates the gap based on hourly pay differences between men and women), men earn around 20% more. And the UK’s official statistics group, which calculates the pay gap of full-time earnings, men earn an average of about 10% more than women.

One core reason for this difference is the tendency for women to drop out of the labour market or move into (bad and low-paid) part-time jobs after having children. Employment data makes this clear.

For example, in 2015, 85% of women between the ages of 25‒49 without children were employed, exactly the same proportion as childless men employed in the same age group. But women are likely to drop out of the labour market or reduce their hours after childbirth, while men are more likely to increase their hours and increase their labour market participation.

The stats show that there is a sharp drop in the employment rate of women with children – to 71% – while the employment rate of fathers rises to more than 90% . Further, only 16% of all women between the ages of 25‒49 without dependent children worked part-time, while this proportion more than triples for women in the same age group with children to 52% .

It isn’t just about working part-time but the quality of part-time work is also a factor. It is widely known that women usually switch to lower-paying, lower-quality jobs when moving into part-time work, due to the lack of high-quality well-paid part-time jobs in the UK .

So the question arises: what can we do to help women maintain their working patterns after childbirth, without sacrificing their careers? My research into flexible working arrangements shows that they can help women maintain their working hours and stay in employment.

Introducing flexitime

Obviously the more flexibility you have at work the better you are able to shape work around family demands. I myself am a good example of this. Coming back to work from having taken six months of maternity leave after the birth of my daughter, I would not have been able to go back to work full-time if it wasn’t for the flexibility I had at work. Given the great amount of freedom you have as an academic to work whenever and wherever you want (within limits), I was able to work full-time by working from home and catching up on work during the weekends and evenings when my baby was asleep or I had other childcare support available. It was hard and I lost a lot of sleep – but through such flexibility I was able to maintain my research career.

I wondered whether similar patterns could be observed for other women in the UK. To investigate, my colleague Mariska van der Horst and I used a data set of 40,000 households to see whether being able to have control over when you work and where you work influences women’s likelihood of remaining in employment and not reducing their working hours significantly (of more than 4 hours) after the birth of their children. The results were remarkable.

In our research, which was published in the journal Human Relations, we found that women who were able to use flexitime were only half as likely to reduce their working hours after the birth of their child. This effect was especially the case for the women who used flexitime prior to the birth of their child as well as after.


Heejung Chung, CC BY-ND

In the overall sample, more than half the women reduced their working hours after the birth of their child. But less than a quarter of the women who were able to use flexitime reduced their hours, with similar results for women who were able to work from home if they wanted to. This shows that, given the chance to work flexibly, many women would stay in work and maintain their hours and their pay after having children.

As I’ve found in previous research, not all jobs allow for flexible work arrangements – and they are not necessarily provided to those in most need of them. Rather, they tend to be given more to high-skilled, higher educated workers in supervisory roles. Another recent study found that a large number of mothers are forced to leave their jobs after flexible working requests were turned down.

The ConversationIt is not only a matter of justice but also a matter of society’s economic prosperity and development to ensure that women are able to remain in the labour market across different stages of the life cycle, including childbirth. The right to flexible working is crucial if we are to tackle the problem of gender inequality in the labour market – especially when it comes to having a balance at the top of the career ladder.

Heejung Chung, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Mums forced out due to lack of flexible jobs

Nearly one in five [18%]  of working mums have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request has been turned down, according to Workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey published today .

The survey of over 2,000 women in Workingmums.co.uk’s 10th anniversary year shows that over a quarter of mums in work [26%] have had a flexible working request turned down. Some 12 per cent said their employer did not even seem to consider their request at all and over a quarter [27%] said the reason given for turning down the request was not one which is allowable under flexible working legislation.

Continue reading

Can flexible working work for men?

Annabel Crabb in conversation with four men, each working flexible hours in various careers. What are the perceptions of men working flexible hours and how does this affect their careers, colleagues and family life?

WAF note: Key points mentioned here about the flexibility bias, how to eliminate them, and how to manage a flexible working workers – and finally flexibility is NOT only about reducing hours!

via the Australian Government’s  Workplace Gender Equality Agency

The more work-life balance we have the more we want

Leah Ruppanner, University of Melbourne

Workers in countries where shorter working hours are the norm are more likely to complain of poor work-life balance, according to our research recently published in the journal Social Forces.

David Maume and I explored the impact of legislated maximum working hours, now in place in most western industrialised countries, on work-family conflict. We included data for employees in 32 nations.

Continue reading

Do we really want to become Danes when it comes to childcare?

 

Ah, the Danish model of childcare. So much ink has been spilt over how great of a system it is, in terms of cost, quality as well as just the abundance/accessibility of it – and consequently how it really supports/allows mothers to get back to work after childbirth.

Yet we all know, we can’t all be Danes… or can we? Continue reading

Flexible working is making us work longer

Freedom is slavery. George Orwell, 1984.

Imagine if you could work whenever and wherever you wanted to. Would you work less and enjoy more time with family and friends? Or would you end up perpetually working, have work spill over into the rest of your life?

Many do not have to imagine what this freedom is like. Roughly a third of all employed workers in the UK have flexibility over their working hours and about a fifth of people work from home on occasion. Across the EU, about 17% of all employed workers have access to flexitime, which means their work start and finish times are flexible. Another 5% have full autonomy over when and how long they work.

Contrary to what you might expect, those with more control over their work schedule work more than those with less control. In fact, people have a tendency to work more overtime hours once they are allowed to work flexibly, compared to when they were not.

Continue reading

Flexible working: The way of the future? Think Kent Talk by Heejung Chung

The way we work has changed considerably in recent years with an increasing number of people gaining access to flexible working and more control over their work schedules. But in reality, has such flexibility given employees more freedom and autonomy?

Dr Heejung Chung explores the benefits of flexible working and the potential negative effects it can have for workers, especially in the context of increased competition, high unemployment and the decline of worker and union power.

Continue reading

Working Paper 1: The Provision of Flexitime

The Work, Autonomy, Flexibility and Work-Life Balance (WAF) Project today releases its first working paper by principal investigator Heejung Chung.

This paper examines the provision of flexitime in companies across a number of European countries. The results show that company composition, structure and agency factors all play a role in explaining the provision of flexitime. However, the factors explaining the provision of flexitime within each country are not necessarily the same as those explaining how companies provide it to employees.

Cross-national variance in the provision of flexitime in 2009 can be explained mostly through national level demand: female labour market participation rates, cultural norms on work, as well as the affluence of the country. This is a change from 2004, where the most important factors explaining the provision of flexitime were government efforts in providing family policy and the size of the public sector.

Overall, this paper shows that the more relevant factors in explaining why companies provide flexitime, especially as related to cross-national differences, seem to be based on the demand for such policies and the available resources to meet the demands.

You can download the full working paper here.

Helping men get work-life balance can help everyone

Laura Good, Deborah Towns and Jesse E. Olsen, from the Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne, discuss work-life balance, workplace gender inequality, and an innovative Australian programme to encourage more men to take-up flexible working arrangements.

Women’s increased participation in the labour force over the past 50 years has outpaced changes to work organisation and social attitudes. This is true for issues of work-life balance, which continue to polarise workers and managers.

But work-life balance and gender equality are not only women’s issues. They belong to men, too. Continue reading