To mark Equal Pay Gap Day last month, the Fawcett Society commissioned Survation to poll working age people on their experiences of flexible working, a crucial factor in closing the gender pay gap.

November 22nd was the UK’s Equal Pay Gap Day, the day in the year when, based on average pay, women overall stop being paid compared to men.

According to the Fawcett Society, true flexible working means choice and opportunity. If flexibility were available as standard and normalised in workplace cultures across a greater variety of career paths – and taken up by men as well as women – this would mean a more equal division of unpaid labour between the genders, provide greater opportunity for people with disabilities, promote women’s career progression, and attract and retain a more diverse talent pool in the workplace. In turn, this would lower the gender pay gap.

Critically, says the Society, all available flexible work options must be advertised in job descriptions – with employers to broaden their perception of what high quality flexible work can mean and truly consider what is possible in their workplace.

The survey revealed that:

  • 40% of women who are not currently working said that if flexible work was available to them, it would enable them to do paid work – indicating a sizeable number locked out of the labour market due to a lack of employer flexibility.
  • 77% of women agreed that they would be more likely to apply for a job that advertises flexible working options.
  • 70% women and 60% men would be more likely to vote for a party that required employers to include the possible flexible working options in job adverts. This included the vast majority of people who intend to vote Labour, Conservative, SNP or Liberal Democrat at the next general election.
  • 48% Black and minoritised women would like greater flexibility in their work but are worried about the implications for their careers. This highlights the higher standard to which Black and minoritised women are held to progress at work, and the need for flexibility to be normalised as the default practice for all.

The Fawcett Society is calling on the UK Government to require employers to advertise all reasonable flexible work options available to applicants, with flexibility built-in and offered as default, and to all political parties to include this policy in their manifestos ahead of the next general election.

What types of flexibility do UK workers have?
The representative survey identified a sizeable minority (37%) of working people aged 18-65 saying that they worked to a pattern their employer had set, rather than having any adjustments to their working arrangements in place.

For people with access to flexibility, the most common types of flexibility available were different start and finish times to colleagues (49%) and access to time off in lieu (49%) – although these options do not necessarily reflect choice around how and when to work, and the former may simply indicate shift work. The least common types of flexibility were working to commissioned outcomes rather than a set number of hours (8%) and compressed hours, i.e. doing the same number of hours in fewer days (9%).

There were differences in the types of flexible work accessed by gender, with women significantly more likely to work part-time or have different start and finish times to their colleagues, and men significantly more likely to:

  • Work a set number of hours flexibly across the year
  • Work to commissioned outcomes (rather than a set number of hours)
  • Have access to time off in lieu
  • Work term time only (in a setting outside of education)
  • Work as part of a job share

The types of ‘flexible’ work that women are accessing – such as part-time work and different start times and finish times to colleagues – may not reflect true flexibility and can often be associated with lower pay and insecurity. Research from the Work Foundation suggests that women are nearly twice as likely as men to be in severely insecure work – and this in increased further for mothers, disabled women, and women from Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds.

Overall, younger people (both women and men) were more likely to be accessing flexible work, compared to older people. Looking at differences by age for women, those aged 45-54 were the most likely to be working to a pattern their employer had set (48%), rather than having any adjustments to their working pattern in place. Women in this age group are particularly at risk of leaving their roles due to menopause symptoms – with 1 in 10 menopausal women doing so. Therefore, it is highly concerning that they are the least likely to be accessing flexible work, which would support many to manage their symptoms and progress at work.

Women in Games CEO Marie-Claire Isaaman offered: “There is much evidence that flexible working would improve work/life balance for women, particularly those with caring responsibilities. This research also reveals that if flexible working is offered, it can help women back into the workplace – and potentially close the Gender Pay Gap. We very much support this – and the Fawcett Society in highlighting this, and for calling on the UK Government to back this movement.”

You can read the full report here – https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=aafe6e8f-a98d-41d6-8cf7-d505d9dc73ec

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