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How inflexible job ads hold women back

22nd Jul 2021
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There has been a lot in the press about Covid changing the way we work. Often it is contradictory. Often the focus is on the negative - the impact of remote working on city centres, mental health problems and so forth. But the truth is more complex and the fact is that all of this has taken place in a pandemic when many people are anxious.

Any change to the norm brings a big focus on the potential negatives. We are usually happier to stay in the world we know, particularly when everything else is uncertain. But maybe the world we know doesn't work for everyone.

Flexible working has become synonymous with remote working, but it's about opening up the possibilities of how, when and where we work. And what might happen if we do?

Our annual survey shows 73 per cent of working mums are optimistic that Covid-19 will mean more flexible jobs being advertised, with three quarters saying they would be more likely to change jobs as a result. The survey shows just how much people who want flexible working - who may need it - have been held back, how many are stuck in jobs and unable to progress or even change for fear of losing flexibility. Many women say that their career progression has been affected by working flexibly. That is surely a waste.

While many in our survey [43 per cent] said they wanted to be a senior leader, others just want to try something different, but have been thwarted. The groundswell for flexible working has been building for years, of course, and Covid has just accelerated that. The momentum is on their side and they are already being more demanding in interviews and flexible working negotiations. The survey shows 53 per cent of mums said they had turned down a job because it was not flexible enough. 

One challenge on the horizon is that greater flexible working - particularly remote working - will be taken up mainly by women. Only just over a third of mums said their partners were looking to work more flexibly after Covid. This compared to 47% who said they weren't. Then there is the impact of Covid exhaustion on promotion patterns, particularly if promotion is based on productivity at a time when women have been shouldering most of the homeschooling. Other concerns include the way forms of flexible working that are not remote working have fallen off the agenda, particularly given that not eveyone can work from home. Employers need to keep a watch on this and be open to the many different ways people can do their work.

So, while there is optimism about the opening up of more flexible roles in response to not just increased demand, but evidence that many jobs can be done more flexibly, there is concern that it is likely to be women who take up this option more, with that having an effect on their visibility and their career progression, and those needing other forms of flexibility than remote working missing out.

The survey shows that women clearly do want to progress and are more than willing to move on if they don't get what they need and the right flexible jobs are available. Employers must ensure that progression is possible in flexible jobs, including part-time roles, if they want to retain that talent and that men are also encouraged to take up flexible options and don't feel their careers will be damaged as a result.

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