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.
Employers are failing to overtly offer prospective employees flexible working options, and this is causing a ‘talent bottleneck’. While 46% of people in employment in the UK want some kind of flexible working, only 6% of vacancy listings specify flexible options.
So few job adverts mention flexible working that 77% of flexible workers feel trapped in their current role – halting career progression. Moreover, those seeking flexible work ‘trade down’, 41% of flexible workers taking employment below their skill or salary level in order to get the flexibility they need.
Research shows that 52% of those looking for flexible work feel nervous to ask for flexibility when it isn’t specified in the advert; 43% fear asking will damage their chances of getting the job.
By not being proactive in opening jobs to those seeking flexible work, employers are cutting themselves off from some of the best available talent
Many mothers looking to return work assume part-time schedules would be an ideal solution. However, research shows that many of those working mothers on official part-time schedules work well outside the bounds of them. Researcher Laura Vanderkam points out that:
Even though the part-timers had often taken pay cuts, and risked being seen as less committed to their careers than full-time colleagues, they weren’t necessarily working that much less.
Thus, rather than shifting to part-time contracts, returning mothers should consider returning full-time but with flexible working patterns.
Yvonne Lott, of the Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Institut (WSI) in Germany, questions whether working time flexibility can really deliver employee autonomy.
Flexibility in working time makes it possible to reconcile work with the affairs of private life. Whether this is caring for children or elderly parents, or pursuing a qualification alongside work – flexible working times give employees freedom to organize their time. In particular when employees can themselves determine how to organize their working time, their autonomy at work can seem unlimited. Self-determination of work schedules promises control over one’s own working time and thus autonomy over one’s time in general. Employees with such working times should, then, have relatively stress-free (work) lives. Right? I am skeptical. Continue reading →
This article notes that common conceptions suggest that part-time workers are often women who have compromised their careers to bring up children, while full-time (male) workers occupy the most powerful positions.
However, research shows that there are people in the most senior positions in UK companies working part-time. The author suggests that ‘agile’, flexible ways of working are gaining acceptance as businesses adapt to younger people join the labour market and the changing needs of customers – in both cases, trends are often in favour of flexibility, both at work and in when people interact with businesses.
However, full acceptance will be gradual as for many people standard full-time working will remain not only normal but preferable.
This report starts by noting that there is a ‘significant’ gap in male and female employment across Europe. It argues that this means economies are failing to utilise their full potential. In particular it highlights:
Low rates of female employment, which effects economic output.
A high prevalence of women working below their ‘qualification grade’, which might have effects in terms of a sub-optimal allocation of skills across an economy.
Underemployment in terms of hours – particularly a persistent yet variable gap in working hours between men and women across typical life phases, which raises issues of productivity, staff retention and recruitment costs at the level of the firm.
The report looks at how flexible working options may play a part in addressing such negative outcomes. Furthermore, it also examines the challenges and opportunities that increased flexible working might offer. Findings include:
Increased part-time work and employee schedule control can be associated with an increased female employment rate.
The concentration of part-time work in low-level jobs may increase the tendency for women to work in occupations below their skill level.
Part-time work is often the main flexible working option, possibly leading to: unnecessarily low average working hours among new mothers, and mothers’ average working hours continuing to remain low throughout their careers.
High-levels of demand for a larger range of flexible working options among working women.
90% of employees agreed that having more choice in working arrangements improves morale
35% of employees felt that people who work flexibly create more work for others
The availability of flexible working was important for 41% of employees when they made their decision to work for their current employer.
Those with flexible working arrangements were more likely to work long hours, suggesting that such practices facilitate greater labour market involvement.
Tipping, Sarah; Chanfreau, Jenny; Perry, Jane; Tait, Claire (2012) The Fourth Work-Life Balance Employee Survey, Employment Relations Research Series 122, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
While the authors note that flexible work can improve job satisfaction and worker commitment to employers, they go on to point out that it can also lead to the intensification of work.
Looking at workers that have reduced hours or work remotely, the authors propose three means by which intensification proceeds:
intensification as an act of reciprocation or exchange
They argue that the paradox between increased work intensification, and reported increases in job satisfaction and organisational commitment may be explained by employees trading flexibility for effort, that is, employees ‘respond to the ability to work flexibly by exerting additional effort, in order to return benefit to their employer’.
Kelliher, Clare; Anderson, Deirdre (2010) “Doing more with less? Flexible working practices and the intensification of work” Human Relations, 63(1)
Using a sample of 1,893 companies across 15 countries, the authors examine the relationship between public expenditure on national family-leave policies, employment legislation and culture, and use of flexible working.
They find that these three areas of expenditure influence the use of flexible working, but that this depends on both context and type of flexible working. As such, they stress that researchers should consider both the national and institutional environments when designing and interpreting research on flexible working.
Kassinis, George I.; Stavrou, Eleni T. (2013) “Non-standard work arrangements and national context” European Management Journal, 31