Why flexible working won’t be taken seriously until men do it

Find out how an annual survey of flexible working in the UK has found that much work is still to be done – and that it won’t be taken seriously until more men ask for it.

In the 15 years since I first fell pregnant, we’ve come a long way in how we deal with the ‘issue’ of mothers wanting or needing to work. But as the news this week about women being silenced after maternity discrimination shows, we’re a long way from equality yet.

(Read how, like 54,000 other women every year, I was forced out of my job after becoming a mother, and made to sign a confidentiality agreement that forced me to lie to future employers about why I had left.)

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Until men ask for flexibility, it won’t be taken seriously

Ten2Two is the pioneering flexible working and part-time recruitment consultancy established in 2007. Now in its tenth year, the agency has recently published their 2017 Flexible Working Survey, which asked around 250 businesses and over 1,000 employees for their views on how flexible working has changed over this past decade.

The overall view is that more men need to demand flexible working from their employers – and until they do, it won’t be seen as a serious issue.

Ten2Two found that more than one respondent indicated that improved gender representation is the best way to improve the adoption and attitudes towards flexible working. As one clearly stated:

“If there’s an increase in men taking up part-time working, attitudes will change. At the moment it’s seen as very much a female need and therefore not taken as seriously.”

Rightly or wrongly, there may be some truth in this – most vacancies are still advertised with little mention of flexible working at the outset. In fact, just 8.7% of jobs paid £20,000 or more (full-time equivalent) are advertised with part-time or flexible options according to the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index.

This needs to change.

More men are beginning to ask for flexibility

Although it is still less common, there has been a rise in men requesting flexibility from their roles. Sometimes this is to focus on external projects such as book writing, or to spend more time with children.

As Deborah O’Sullivan, Managing Partner at Ten2Two explains:

“We have both men and women registered with us, all hoping to find flexible and part-time career roles through our specialist recruitment agency. And we’re finding more men are looking for flexibility – it’s not just the provision of women.”

And why shouldn’t more men want more flexibility? After all, at its root, it’s really a parenting issue – not a gender issue. As Peter, a university researcher says:

“I’m lucky with my job. It’s fairly flexible and I’ve condensed my hours into four days a week. It works because I get Mondays to spend with my newborn. This is time that won’t come around again, so it’s worth more to me than earning a five-day wage, plus we save on childcare.”

Why we need to celebrate working flexibly

In an effort to change the perception of flexible working, and to actually celebrate it, in 2012 Timewise published their first annual Power Part Time List of 50 successful men and women who work at the top of their professional on a flexible basis.

Karen Mattison MBE, joint CEO of Timewise, says:

“I found and interviewed 300 of these professionals, and they told me that flexible working worked for them but they did it ‘under the radar’ because they didn’t want people to think that they weren’t ambitious, not up for promotion, or on the ‘mummy track’. Their managers had also asked them not to let anyone else know they worked flexibly because they didn’t’ want to offer the same opportunity to others.

I believe that, unless we hear stories about people successfully making it work – and doing so at the top of their game – we think successful flexible working at a senior level can’t be done and give up. And that ultimately is what the Power Part Time list seeks to redress.”

Importantly, the list deliberately includes both men and women, helping to dispel the idea that flexible working is just a women’s issue.

Flexible workers bring great benefits for business

There are excellent business reasons why companies should embrace flexible working. Not only do flexible workers offer brilliant business benefits such as greater productivity, company loyalty and value – they bring with them bags of professional experience, too. It also means you can tap into a wider talent pool when seeking to fill a vacancy.

In fact, with increasing revelations about the gender pay gap, more and more businesses will be getting on board with flexibility. The sooner businesses realise this and embrace these vital workers – male and female – the better.

Demand for flexible recruitment is growing

If further proof were needed that the market for flexible working is thriving, you only need to look at how recruitment has evolved in recent years.

15 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, there was little advice or support, let alone specialist recruitment agencies obviously available to help me navigate the next stage of my career.

Today, however, the industry is thriving with a host of recruitment agencies following in Ten2Two’s footsteps (this year the company celebrated their tenth anniversary).

And businesses who embrace this stand to make huge gains, as the recruitment market faces stiffer competition to fill roles with high quality people.

If you’d like Ten2Two to help you find a flexible or part-time professional role, visit Ten2Two.org today. They offer free professional Member events throughout the year, covering aspects of job hunting such as CV writing and interview techniques.

Employers should call them to discuss requirements for flexible roles – they offer professional guidance around building flexible job roles, what to ask at interview and what to think about when hiring a flexible worker.