Flexible working – Childcare mothers

Call for flexible working for all hits Parliament, but women should still be looking after the children….a juxtaposition?

There were two stories in the press in the last couple of weeks which resonated here at Parental Choice HQ for different reasons. Firstly, was the great news that a private bill relating to default flexible working for all was bought before Parliament by MP Helen Whatley. We couldn’t agree more with her statement; “How many more employers would find that actually it didn’t make a difference where or when a piece of work was done, as long as it was done?“. Two days later, the Department of Business published its consultation seeking your views on proposals to better support parents to balance work and family-life.

At Parental Choice, we spend our time trying to make a difference to working parents through changes to their workplace culture and in particular in finding childcare solutions for working parents, so we understand how flexible working is massively beneficial to parents who are juggling childcare logistics. Childcare is traditionally in-flexible; nurseries, afterschool clubs and childminders have very set hours and parents can be charged for being late. Sadly the way childcare is provided seems unlikely to change and this immediately puts working parents, and ultimately companies, at a disadvantage.

Despite the fact that flexibility was extended in June 2014 to all employees and not just those parents or guardians of adults requiring care, or of children under the age of 17 (or the age of 18 if the child had a disability), it is still very much assumed that flexible working is only for parents. Flexible working is still only available on request and even then only one statutory written request for flexible working can be made in a 12 month period. It is not an automatic right and an employer has 8 fairly wide reasons for refusal.

Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka has led the charge to get flexible working on the government’s agenda as a day one right and the next step is getting the bill through parliament. However, before everyone gets too excited, whilst MPs often use Ten Minute Rule bills to gain publicity and support for an issue they care about – they are unlikely to become law unless they get government backing. It is therefore very important that your views are heard as part of the Government’s consultation as to whether employers should have a duty to consider if a job can be done flexibly and make that clear when advertising a role.

Unfortunately despite potentially encouraging developments in flexible working, at the other end of the scale The Times reported that ‘more than half of adults still think women should take the lead in looking after babies and young children.’ This is despite attempts to encourage men to take a more hands-on role. This article is the result of a report by the National Centre for Social Research and compares results from surveys from 2012 and 2018 which quizzed 1,302 adults.

However, it is not all bleak. According to the British Social Attitudes survey, there has been a shift in expectation of mothers staying home and looking after the children while the father goes to work. In 2012 31% of respondents felt mothers should be at home, while this is now just 19%.

These attitudes may not be reflective of ALL adults, as we don’t have a breakdown of who completed the survey, but it is a damning view of a society which purports to support companies seeking to close the gender pay gap, increase the female talent pipeline and encourage women to have fulfilling careers after maternity leave.

What can be done?

According to Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, ‘this study confirms that attitudes are moving in the right direction, there is more that both employers and the government can do.’ She has also suggested that employers should top-up shared leave and all employers should offer a ‘properly paid, standalone period of extended paternity leave.’

One of our clients, White & Case were lauded in the FT this week for their parental leave policies, which mean their employees who are parents have to opt OUT of the 12 weeks paid parental leave they introduced in 2018. This has encouraged both male and female employees to use this leave to take time out with their children.

There is no doubt that times are changing and that society, although not as advanced as we would like, is evolving and workplace culture is transforming with it. The Government is seriously looking into proposals to better support parents to balance work and family-life and companies are increasingly under pressure to offer flexible working patterns with more visible paternity leave.

Slowly but surely we can but firmly hope and optimistically assume that by the time our children are parents, that survey will have very different results.

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