Flexible working is very much the future, according to numerous studies, and especially vital for working mums seeking to balance career progression with childcare. However, according to an extensive new survey, only half of working mums who ask for flexible working are actually granted it by their employers.
Of the 13,000 working mothers surveyed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Mother Pukka, 50% said their current employer had rejected or only accepted part of their flexible working request.
The survey also revealed that many working mums are put off asking for flexible working in the first place. Two in five said they were worried about getting a negative reaction from their boss, while two in five said there was no point asking because they knew the answer would be a no.
A similar proportion said they would not feel comfortable bringing up flexible working in a job interview because they thought they would be discriminated against.
"It's time to make flexible working the norm as we emerge from the pandemic. It’s the best way to keep women in work and to close the gender pay gap," said Frances O'Grady of the TUC. "But the current system is broken. Employers still have free rein to turn down requests for flexible working. And women are too scared to ask for flexible working at job interviews, for fear of being discriminated against."
To improve the situation for working mothers, O'Grady said that government ministers need to do "more than just tinker with a flawed system". Instead, she and the TUC are calling on the government to make flexible working a genuine and fully enforceable legal right.
Mother Pukka founder Anna Whitehouse said she launched her campaign to make flexible working a legal right after her own request was turned down in 2015. "I asked to arrive 15 minutes earlier so I could leave 15 minutes earlier to make nursery pick-up. My request was denied for fear it might ‘open the floodgates’ to others seeking flexibility," she recalled. "I left, I quit, I broke and I felt redundant – like the 54,000 women every year who lose their jobs for simply having a baby."
Whitehouse continued: "In December 2019, the Queen announced flexible working as a key focus for the Employment Bill. Flexible working is firmly on [the government's] table, but in 2021, 50% of working mums are still having their requests turned down. There is a break in the floodgates, but the legal right to flexible working must be made available from the get-go if we're going to finally change this outdated and discriminative system for good."