Flexible working still the number one priority for mums

The economic recession has not dented women’s desire for flexible working, with almost all working mums rating flexibility as “very important” to them, according to the annual survey by WorkingMums the UK’s leading jobs site for working mums.

Although significantly more women had been made redundant over the last year – up from 14% last year to 27% this year – over three quarters [79%] of the 1,677 women surveyed said they needed flexible jobs. When asked what they thought made for a family friendly employer, offering flexible hours for full time jobs came out top at 85%, just ahead of offering some homeworking for full time jobs.

Offering part time work and flexibility around emergency cover or school holidays came next, followed by support for childcare. Way down the list came extended maternity pay, with just under a third [31%] considering this a sign of a family friendly employer.

The survey comes as Workingmums.co.uk launches its Top Employers platform, which showcases the organisations which are already benefitting from the skills and experience working mums have to offer because they are forward thinking in offering the kind of family friendly policies which mums are demanding. Carole Willsher, recruitment and diversity specialist at British Gas, said:
“British Gas is delighted to sponsor the WorkingMums survey. We are very interested to note the high value placed on flexible working by employees.
This is something we have made great strides to reflect in our own award-winning family friendly working practices. British Gas offers flexible working to all employees at all levels and 60% work flexibly, over half of these being men.”

The survey ranks the kind of flexible working which working mums favour:

  • – Flexi-time was the most popular form of flexible working, with 80% rating this as important to them
  • – Over half [54%] wanted some homeworking.

Despite their overwhelming desire for flexible work, there was little change from last year in the number of women saying they had been forced to take a career break due to problems around finding work that fit with their family life. Thirteen per cent had taken time out of their career because they couldn’t juggle work and family life or felt their job lacked the flexibility they needed. Although three quarters of women [76%] said their employers were supportive, the number who said their employer was not supportive has stuck at 24%. Many women said they had considered setting up their own business as a way
around the flexibility problem, showing that employers who miss out on the experience and skills of working mums could risk losing them or, even, facing them as competition. Some 45% said they had looked into this option.

There were far fewer working mums working full time this year. Only 24% worked full time and 60% did part-time jobs. The number earning less pro rata than when they went on maternity leave remained the same at 53%, suggesting many women had taken less challenging jobs in order to get the flexibility they required. Moreover, more than half [54%] would accept a less well paid job in return for flexibility with 40% prepared to consider this option. There were still significant numbers of women who didn’t know about the extension of flexible working to parents of children under 16 – 32% said they didn’t have any idea about this.

64% didn’t know that they are entitled to up to 10 Keeping In Touch Days [KIT Days] during their maternity leave so they can go into the office and get updated on developments. Just over a fifth [11%] actually used KIT Days. T

here also appeared to be a reluctance on women’s part to discuss flexible working options before going on maternity leave with nearly half [48%] saying they hadn’t had a conversation with their employer about returning to work flexibly prior to taking their maternity leave. Nevertheless, 83% said having some flexibility in their job would help them to return. Forty-nine per cent said they would favour a staggered return, with their hours increasing gradually as they settled back into work.

Around four fifths [79%] said having some degree of homeworking would help them to work full time. Of those mums who were not working, 73% perceived lack of appropriate flexible jobs as a barrier to them going back to work. This was a rise of 10% on last year’s figure. – 72% felt lack of available flexible jobs was a problem – Over half [55%] found childcare costs an impediment – 30% rated lack of confidence as a big issue. However, 71% of those in work felt their work was fairly or very flexible.

The overwhelming reason for going back to work was money with 93% citing this as a reason, but 72% wanted to work for their own self esteem and 83%
enjoyed their job. Gillian Nissim, founder of WorkingMums.co.uk, said: “This year’s survey shows that flexible working is top of working mums’ agenda and will not go away. It is the key issue that employers must grapple with if they want to retain the kind of skills offered by working mums. Many of our candidates have over 15 years’ experience in their career fields and a significant number have management experience. The recession has not reduced the urgency of this issue for working parents and employers who want to be prepared for the eventual upturn in the economy would do well to listen to their voices rather than risk losing them to more forward-thinking rivals.”

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