Gender Pay Gap Contents

4The case for flexibility

72.As we have seen in Chapter 3 there is growing consensus that employers need to re-think how jobs are structured. The language around this may vary—from flexible working, to smart working and agile working—but the principles are the same. Until jobs can be measured and designed with output, rather than presenteeism, in mind, employers will continue to miss out on the considerable talents of those sections of the population unable, or unwilling, to work 9-5, 5 days a week, in the office.

73.The advantage of flexible or agile working is that it can benefit all employees, men and women, as well as employers. At the same time, it presents a useful solution to the problem of the part-time pay penalty, which contributes to the gender pay gap. In this chapter we will analyse how flexible working and part-time working differ; look at how women’s skills are being under-utilised; examine the barriers to increasing flexible working; and assess recommendations to overcome them.

Part-time or flexible?

74.There has been a tendency in the UK to see part-time working as the only solution to balancing employment with other responsibilities. As Close the Gap point out this has negative consequences for women:

Three-quarters of part-time workers are women. Part-time work has a long-term scarring effect on women’s incomes across their lifetime, and on their ability to progress.

The use of part-time work as a work-life balance coping strategy is not an inevitability, though. In Finland, which also provides universal childcare at a low cost or no cost to families, part-time work is almost unknown as a solution to work-life balance issues, and is principally done by semi-retired people and students.64

75.Whilst women dominate part-time work (42% of women work part-time compared to 12% of men), the data on flexible working shows a more varied picture with a similar proportion of men and women working flexible hours. The term “flexible working” encompasses many different arrangements including working from home; late starts or early finishes; compressed hours; term-time working; and job sharing.

Figure 6: Proportion of workers with flexible working arrangements

Source: ONS Labour Force Survey April to June 2015

76.AGE UK note that the ability to work flexibly is closely linked to skills levels. It is much easier for workers in professional and managerial jobs to access flexible working, in particular home working. One recommendation, made by Age UK, Close the Gap and Emma Stewart of the Timewise Foundation is to create more flexible working opportunities for those in lower skilled jobs. As Dr Alison Parken explained to the Committee:

We should not think of part-time work as the only form of flexibility. Sometimes it is not flexible, for instance, if you think about the women in local government who have often got three or four jobs with the same employer. They might do school-crossing patrol in the morning, lunch-time assistant, a bit of teaching assistant in the afternoon and something else. They are working 12 or 14 hours a day, but they only get paid for the slots of hours that they do. Those sorts of jobs …are an issue of low pay.65

We discuss the difficulties of finding flexible work faced by those working in low-paid sectors in Chapter 7.

77.Although flexible, or agile working, is popular with employees and offers significant benefits to employers (which we analyse in Chapter 3), part-time working is still the predominant form of “flexibility” offered by organisations. As the table below demonstrates, the levels of other types of flexible working, particularly in the private sector and amongst SMEs, are extremely low.

Table 1: Provision of flexible working options by sector and size (%)

Source: YouGov findings for CIPD report HR: Getting smart about agile working, 2014

Part-time = Career death

78.Lower hourly pay for part-time work is also an issue for well-qualified women working in professional careers. As the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) observe:

Part-time working is often seen as ‘career death’, because many employers still want their most senior staff to be working full-time, resulting in too many part-time jobs being at a comparatively junior level.66

79.We heard a range of examples from different professions about how this “career death” manifests itself. Amanda Brown Assistant General Secretary of the National Union for Teacher (NUT) described the situation in teaching:

Yes, there is a part-time penalty … There should not be because teachers should be paid pro-rata. However, there is often a sense that if you are not contributing further than you possibly can, if you are part-time, then you do not get pay progression.67

80.Dr Sally Davies from the Medical Women’s Federation said the same prejudice applied in medicine:

The minute you become part-time not only do you stop getting paid progression at the same rate, but it is implied that you are not interested in progressing. I myself worked and trained part-time as I had four young children, and I used to introduce myself to people as “Dr Sally Davies, OPT” because so many males that I worked with had called me, “But, of course, you are ‘Only Part-Time’”.68

81.Women working in the legal profession also face these problems, as Audrey Williams, Employment lawyer and Partner at Fox Williams told us:

There is an assumption that if you have decided to work part-time—and I think the profession, in fairness, is moving to slightly more creative working patterns and more agile working, because there is always that pressure about it being a service industry—somehow your ambition has gone.69

Flexibility for all

82.One solution to the problem of women being under-valued for working part-time is to take away the gendered element of the issue and move towards a situation where flexibility is used by men and women as a means of balancing work with other interests or commitments. There also needs to be more emphasis on the options for working differently, rather than simply reducing hours.

83.The Family and Childcare Trust warned that, “Flexible working practices can become stigmatised if they are promoted solely as an option for parents and carers.”70 Moving beyond such conceptions is necessary to reduce the gender pay gap according to The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS):

Establishing a workplace culture where both men and women take parental leave, and flexible hours opportunities, further improves the chances of women being equally valued. Otherwise flexible working can be seen as a part-time option for women only which effectively reduces the argument for pay parity.71

84.However, RICS acknowledged that as long as employers view part-time working as a concession, rather than a positive means of attracting talent and increasing productivity, it will be difficult to encourage more men to adopt it. Research by Jasmine Kelland, a Lecturer in Human Resource Management at Plymouth University, suggests that fathers can be penalised for balancing work with caring commitments.72

85.Sarah Jackson from Working Families explained how younger fathers manage to accommodate a desire to work flexibly with the penalties for doing so:

A lot of fathers are working flexibly now, but it is still the case that it will tend often to be under the radar and done informally. It is also less likely to be done in a way that will reduce hours. People who are able to work from home, for example, or can flex their hours are the kinds of male working patterns that you will find, whereas women are still more likely to be the member of the family who will reduce her hours and reduce her income.73

86.The Modern Families Index, which is based on an online survey of 1,000 working parents across the UK, shows that younger fathers are increasingly willing to take a pay cut in order to reduce their hours:

Figure 7: I would take a pay cut to work fewer hours, by father’s age

Source: Working Families and Bright Horizons, Modern Families Index 201674

87.We heard other evidence on the increasing interest in flexible working from “millenials” of both genders. Neil Carberry told us how businesses are starting to take note of this fact:

If you are in the office, that is not production. Production is the outcomes that we have asked you to deliver, and that is a clearly and strongly held view among the chief executives in our membership.75

88.This observation is borne out by a wealth of recent research into what millienials want from an employer. Studies by EY, UKCES, Deloitte and PWC all show that flexible working is a priority for this group. And as PWC discovered, the trend towards wanting more flexibility is not confined to millenials:

A significant number of employees from all generations feel so strongly about wanting a flexible work schedule that they would be willing to give up pay and delay promotions in order to get it. The similarities in attitudes across generations are striking. For their part, Millennials do not believe that productivity should be measured by the number of hours worked at the office, but by the output of the work performed. They view work as a “thing” and not a “place”.76

89.Flexible working is high on the list of priorities for millenials and employers are beginning to recognise it can help them improve productivity as well as attract and retain talent. These changes to the workplace can be harnessed to reduce the gender pay gap.

The shortage of flexible jobs

90.The Government has extended the right to request flexible working to all employees after 26 weeks, but there are currently no policies in place to address one of the key issues raised around flexibility—the scarcity of jobs advertised as being open to flexible working.

91.Research by the Timewise Foundation found that only 6.2% of quality job vacancies, paying over £20,000 full-time equivalent, are advertised as being open to some kind of flexibility. This stands in contrast to the 96% of employers that say they offer some kind of flexible working and the 14.1 million employees who want flexible working.77

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92.Research by the CIPD confirms the fact that flexible working tend to be seen as a benefit granted to employees that request it, rather than a standard means of organising work. Whilst 62% of organisations consider flexible working reactively, upon an employee’s request, less than half of HR leaders said that flexible options are open to all employees.

Figure 8: Provision of flexible working options by sector and size (%)

Source: YouGov findings for CIPD report HR: Getting smart about agile working, 2014

93.The distinction between flexible working as something available to current employees, rather than new hires, has the following impact on women’s earnings according to the Timewise Foundation:

94.These difficulties in moving between jobs can be a significant impediment to pay progression. As Emma Stewart explained, the latest evidence from the United States shows that “most people, at the moment, progress in businesses by leaving them and going to another job somewhere else.”79

95.Recruitment consultant Amanda Fone described her direct experience of this problem:

We take on between 16 and 20 new roles every single week—we ask every single company, ‘Presumably, you would look at a flexible worker?’ The feedback at the moment is, ‘No, it is not a flexible working job’.80

96.When this issue was raised with Minister of State for Skills, Nick Boles, he made it clear that it was down to employers to offer flexibility at the hiring stage without the Government regulating for them to do so.

If you have half a brain cell as an employer, you realise that by offering flexibility you can often get better applicants. It does not need me to regulate it. If you are at all alive to the possibilities as an employer, in your own interest you should be maximising the flexibility that you can make in your proposals.81

When questioned on whether more than 6% of jobs could be done flexibly the Minister replied that he was sure they could:

Our only disagreement is that I do not believe that is going to happen, because we impose a regulation on all employers that they, from day one, have to make clear that they are open to requests for flexible working from the first day of employment.”82

97.The lack of leadership shown by Ministers in addressing the question of flexible hiring is deeply disappointing. The benefits of flexibility are fully accepted by Government, yet policies encouraging employers to create more opportunities for flexible working are not forthcoming. By refusing to act, the Government is complicit in a system that is undermining productivity and perpetuating the gender pay gap.

The right to request from day 1

98.We have heard mixed evidence on whether giving employees the right to request flexible working from day 1 will help increase the number of jobs available on flexible terms. Currently employees have the right to request flexible working after 26 weeks employment. Employers must consider their request, but can turn it down on a number of business grounds. The data show that 90% of flexible working requests are granted. 83

99.Christopher Brooks from Age UK felt an upfront right to request could help those in lower paid occupations who find it harder to access flexible working.

The removal of the 26-week period for the right to request would be really helpful. It would allow people, at the point of recruitment, to make a formal request … Ideally we would like to go even beyond that and a step beyond the right to request, and have a system of what we have called flexible by default, which would really be the idea that you can assume you can work flexibly. You would be able to pitch an idea to your employer, who would then be able to reject it on the same business reasons as currently exist—if it is not workable for them. It is really an attitudinal change more than anything, more than a legal change.84

100.The Fawcett Society agreed that “Jobs should be advertised as flexible, part-time or job share as a default unless there is a strong and genuine business case not to,”85 and the Family and Childcare Trust made a similar point saying: “All jobs should be advertised as job share unless there is a strong business case not to.”86

101.Other issues with the way the right to request currently operates were raised by Amanda Brown from the National Union of Teachers (NUT):

We do not really see the logic for 26 weeks and also do not see the logic for there being only one opportunity per year to make that request. Also, some of the reasoning around refusals can be challenged and we think, at the moment, that the opportunities to say no are probably too wide. We would like there to be, again, more obligation on the employer rather than relying on individual women to try to challenge all the time.87

102.There is widespread acknowledgment that action needs to be taken to increase the number of jobs advertised flexibly. However, concerns were raised about reducing the 26 week period for requesting flexible working. Audrey Williams explained her reservations:

My worry would be if it was a day one right that the explanation or response would be, “No, because we are not convinced it is going to work”, and the individual would not have had the opportunity to demonstrate that they can make it work. Most organisations would be more reticent and more likely to refuse on that basis.88

103.Minister of State Nick Boles warned of the possible consequences of bringing in the right to request flexible working from day 1.

If you brought it in much earlier, it would do something that would be tremendously damaging to the interests of people who want to benefit from that flexible working, which is that it would put people off recruiting people who might be likely to request it.89

Flexible working charter mark

104.An alternative suggestion for increasing the pool of jobs open to flexible workers was that of a charter mark. One example came from Working Families who have developed a ‘happy to talk flexible working’ strapline for employers to use when they advertise vacancies to signal that they are open to applicants working flexibly. They argue that “given the age profile of women with caring responsibilities, a visible commitment to flexibility in the recruitment process may help to attract women aged over 40 to more senior or better paid roles”.90

105.Emma Kinloch from the think tank Policy Network pointed to other similar schemes in that could provide a model for flexible working.

A scheme which demonstrates an employer’s commitment to flexible working, along similar lines to the Two Ticks Guaranteed Interview Scheme … could be useful as a best practice mark for employers. Compelling companies to think ‘flexible by default’ is the culture change needed to help women over 40 today. 91

The right to request increased hours

106.The question of how women are able to increase their hours after a period of part-time or flexible working was also raised. At the moment, if an employee asks to reduce their hours under the right to request, they have no right to then ask to increase them back again when their circumstances change. This can trap women in part-time hours, as Professor Rubery explained:

We need the right to return to full-time working, not just a right to request to work part-time. My own university, for whatever reason, has a two-year career break when you can be away full time, but if you opt to work part-time you do not have the right to return full time. That makes no sense. We need this right to return—or at least to have priority for the first full-time vacancy that arises.92

Increasing flexible hiring

107.Regulation is not always the best way to change behaviour, particularly when long-entrenched attitudes about preseentism need to be challenged. Initiatives like flexible hiring charter marks can encourage employers to change their behaviour.

108.The evidence on voluntary schemes reducing the gender pay gap is less than compelling though. The Think, Act, Report scheme, which was introduced by Government to encourage employers to report on their gender pay gap, has been widely acknowledged to have been ineffective as a voluntary measure. As the Minister for Equalities told us, just seven of the 300 employers that signed up to it published their gender pay gap data. This suggests that stronger measures than voluntary schemes are necessary to create change.

109.However, the Minister for Skills response to questioning on flexible hiring suggested a continuation of this strategy of voluntary measures:

We live in a free society. We set broad rules and broad expectations, but ultimately employers and individuals are free to then respond to those. All I am saying is there is no doubt in my mind that, given that the law is clear that after six months everybody has the right to request flexible working, and given that the benefits of employing people flexibly are absolutely evident, the culture will change. However, cultures are slow to change.93

110.One solution to encourage flexible hiring, without the potential perverse consequences of creating a day one right to request flexible working, is to look at advertising guidance. Responsibility for how employers advertise roles without discriminating falls under the remit of the EHRC. Employers use EHRC guidance to ensure they are compliant with the Equality Act. The EHRC advises that:

Employers do not have to advertise job vacancies in a particular way or at all. But if an employer doesn’t advertise at all or advertises in a way that won’t reach people with a particular protected characteristic, this might in some situations lead to indirect discrimination, unless the employer can objectively justify their approach. This is because not advertising or only advertising in a very limited way may stop people with a particular protected characteristic finding out about a job, which could count as worse treatment.94

111.The guidance as it stands does not address the question of flexible hiring. However, there is enough scope within the EHRC’s remit to “encourage good practice in relation to equality and diversity” for them to take a lead on this issue.

Down skilling

112.The productivity gains, estimated at £11.5 billion, of offering flexible working to all employees are described in Chapter 3. Increasing the availability of flexible working can also address the significant loss to the UK economy of the underutilisation of women’s skills. This has been estimated as costing between 1.3 and 2% of GDP a year.

113.The tendency for women to accept lower skilled work in return for flexibility was raised by several of the women that we heard from on a visit to Bournemouth. As one woman explained:

It’s not that women aren’t achieving in education, we are. [But] when women do have families you compromise, so your status completely changes. So women take on part-time work which is usually low-skilled, low-paid. I went from being a senior practitioner running a large team to being a teaching assistant.

114.The Minister of State for Skills, Nick Boles MP, described his own experience of women’s willingness to accept jobs they may have been overqualified for:

I found myself, in preparing for this Committee, thinking of when I used to run Policy Exchange—a think-tank that some of you will have heard of. I can assure the Committee that I would pay men and women equally for every position, but I will be blunt with you: I was able to recruit better women into those jobs than men. That was because they were women who valued the fact that it was possible to do the job flexibly and that I was always very explicitly upfront: they were putting an explicit economic value—or economic and social value, or quality of life value, perhaps—on the fact it was flexible. Therefore, in a sense, these were women whose qualifications and prior experience would have enabled them to get a much better paid job, but they nevertheless chose this job because it was flexible and probably relatively interesting.95

115.Research by the Resolution Foundation supports these individual experiences.96 In a poll of over 1,600 part-time working mothers almost half (48%) on low to middle incomes took a lower-skilled part-time job on their return to work after having children. Even mothers with a degree could not find work which paid a salary commensurate with their skills. 42% of degree holders said they had taken a less skilled job because of working part-time.

Figure 9: % of women who report taking a lower skilled job as a result of working part-time


Source: Resolution Foundation/Netmums survey of 1,610 part-time working women 2012

116.Ensuring that more jobs at all levels are available to those who wish to work flexibly would help women avoid this trap.

Other strategies to increase flexible working

117.The Science Council makes a radical suggestion of moving to a 4-day working week, arguing that this would give men the opportunity to take domestic responsibility and reduce the perception of women as uncommitted workers.97

118.Emma Stewart from the Timewise Foundation recommended a national campaign to champion flexible hiring, built on the premise that this will give employers access to the best possible workers.

119.Several witnesses, including Scarlet Harris, raised the issue of better job design:

There must be a way for employers to design jobs more intelligently and to think more about, “Does this job need to be full-time? Could all of our jobs be advertised on a flexible basis?”… We need to think about encouraging those discussions about flexible working at all levels and model good practice of flexible working, high quality part-time opportunities across organisations, not just part-time jobs at the bottom of the organisation.98

120.Dr Sally Davies described how new ways of working could be successfully implemented:

If you are working within a team, what they do within the junior doctors’ training is that they have slot shares. The money for one particular training slot may be given to two different people. They can be there the same days, so they are on the ground. The team can work differently. We do not have to be as rigid as we are in our thinking.99


121.The current shortage of teachers has been well documented. A recent National Audit Office report found recruitment targets have been missed for the past four years and that “there are signs that teacher shortages are growing.”100 It also found that between 2011 and 2014 the number of teachers leaving the profession increased by 11%, and the proportion of those who chose to leave the profession ahead of retirement increased from 64% to 75%.

122.Under these circumstances, the need to retain women teachers is clearly of critical importance. However, the NUT told us that:

Many women teachers returning from maternity leave are denied the opportunity to work part-time and are forced out of their post and sometimes out of the profession due to the lack of adequately paid part-time teaching posts. 101

123.The latest data show that in November 2014, 77% of teachers worked full-time and 23% worked part-time. This was a reduction from 2013 position when 24.7% worked part-time. Over a quarter (27%) of female teachers work part-time compared with 9% of male teachers. Teachers in primary schools are more likely to work part-time (26% of all primary teachers) compared to just 18% of secondary school teachers.102

124.The particular difficulties teachers face in accessing flexible working were explained by Amanda Brown:

It is very difficult for women to get job shares or flexible working. Even when they do get job shares, they tend to be not very suitable. Many of our members are offered job shares, but only working every day a week in the mornings, which obviously makes it very difficult in terms of pay and childcare responsibilities.103

125.When questioned on flexible working for teachers, the Secretary of State told us that:

In terms of teaching, there is absolutely no reason we should not embrace part-time teachers in our schools up and down the country. Many teachers will do that. I know from visiting schools and talking to staff that there is absolutely flexibility, but we can absolutely encourage and highlight best practice on this and make it very clear that what applies in other sectors absolutely should apply in terms of teaching.104

126.This endorsement of flexible working cannot be found in the Department for Education’s (DFE) current consultation on staffing and employment advice for schools. The 23-page document includes nine pages of advice on the appointment of staff in schools. Within this advice there is no mention of part-time working, flexible working or job-sharing. According to the NUT:

The guidance gives no indication to school leaders or employers that it is desirable - or even possible - to advertise a teaching post as available on a job-share basis. There is no guidance on the possibility of offering any roles on a part-time basis and no indication that doing so is likely to reduce attrition, reduce recruitment costs, improve retention or encourage the continued employment of experienced women teachers. 105

127.When questioned on this matter the Secretary of State said she was happy to go away and look at the guidance and reiterated her commitment to encouraging part-time and flexible employment. However, she remained clear that hiring decisions lay within the remit of individual schools:

I would like to see heads realising that that deputy head who might struggle to make every 8 o’clock meeting is brilliant in other ways, and that is what they are going to bring to the school. I would not get Ofsted involved in making that sort of decision.106

128.Three and a half weeks after the Secretary of State for Education gave evidence to us on flexible working in schools and women returners, the Department for Education announced new policies in this area. We are delighted to see the Department taking on board our findings and launching a “new national programme to make teaching a more flexible long-term career option for women.”107 This includes a dedicated website for teachers to find part-time and flexible job opportunities. The site will also allow teachers to find potential job share partners. Schools will also be offered guidance on how to offer work flexibly.

129.We welcome the Department for Education’s recognition of our findings on taking action to increase flexible working opportunities for teachers and increasing support for women returners. The measures they have announced are an important step in the right direction.


130.Flexible working can take many forms including: working fewer hours; working compressed hours; later starts and earlier finishes; job sharing; and working from home. Flexible working is an effective way to match employees’ availability with organisations’ needs, allowing employers to hire the best person for the job.

131.There is clear evidence flexible working benefits the UK economy and individual employers. However, a culture of presenteeism and a lack of creative thinking about job design are hampering progress towards flexibility as the norm. Too few employers are considering the benefits of offering jobs as open to flexible working.

132.The extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees does not deal with the problem of flexible hiring. Only 6% of well paid jobs are advertised as open to flexible working. This contributes to the gender pay gap by limiting women’s options and hampers productivity.

133.Waiting for cultural change to increase the number of flexible jobs available will not help the Government achieve its aim of reducing the gender pay gap. We need to ensure that all employers consider whether every job they advertise could be worked flexibly. This would tackle skill shortages as well as reducing the gender pay gap.

134.Our key recommendation is that:

135.We also recommend that:

64 Close the Gap (GPG0036) para 3.24–3.25

65 Q14

66 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) (GPG0041)

67 Q69

68 ibid

69 ibid

70 Family and Childcare Trust (GPG0028)

71 RICS (GPG0032)

72 Jasmine Kelland (GPG0059)

73 Q144 Sarah Jackson

74 The Modern Families Index is based on an online survey. Online surveys are not always fully representative of the whole population as they can exclude poorer households and over-represent those with stronger IT skills.

75 Q43

77 Timewise Foundation (GPG0052)

78 Timewise Foundation (GPG0052) para 6

79 Q205

80 Q95

81 Q260

82 Q261

83 Working Families Top Employers Benchmark 2015

84 Q 123

85 Fawcett Society (GPG0031) para 8.3

86 Family and Childcare Trust (GPG0028)

87 Q74

88 Q74

89 Q261

90 Working Families (GPG0024)

91 Ms Emma Kinloch (GPG0011)

92 Q33

93 Q263

94 EHRC website Job Adverts

95 Q244

97 Science Council (GPG0030)

98 Q132

99 Q71

100 National Audit Office Training New Teachers February 2016

101 National Union of Teachers (GPG0040)

102 Department for Education School Workforce in England: November 2013. Issued 10 April 2014

103 Q64

104 Q246

105 National Union of Teachers Additional Evidence (GPG0062)

106 Q255

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Prepared 16 March 2016