How flexible working can abolish the gender pay gap

22 March 2016 -


A report from the Women and Equalities Select Committee, chaired by Maria Miller MP, reveals how increased flexible working opportunities is key to achieving gender pay parity

Matt Scott

“Flexible working for all lies at the heart of addressing the gender pay gap.” That’s the key message from a Women and Equalities Committee report investigating the gender pay gap in British businesses.

The report found that women in the UK are currently paid an average of 19.2% less than their male counterparts, despite women being ‘better educated and better qualified than ever before’.

A lack of flexible working opportunities and a high concentration of women in part-time work was identified as the main driver of this pay difference, with 42% of women working part-time compared to just 12% of men.

This is largely due to women taking a disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring, such as childcare, and the dominance of women in sectors that offer low pay and part-time roles, such as retail and the care industry.

As such, the report puts forward four key proposals aimed at eliminating the gender pay gap:

  • Make all jobs flexible by default from the outset unless there is a strong and continuing business case for them not to be
  • Bring in non-transferrable leave for fathers and second parents to allow men and women to share care more equally
  • Establish industrial strategies for low paid, highly feminised sectors to improve productivity and pay levels
  • Create a National Pathways to Work scheme that will support women to return to employment after time out of the labour market

CMI chief executive Ann Francke welcomed the proposals, but said these need to be combined with other measures introduced by government in order to be successful.

“In closing the gender pay gap, there isn’t one thing we have to do; there are many,” she said. “The select committee’s recommendations are part of the solution, as well as the government’s measures requiring large employers to report on the gender pay gap. The government should also take on board the committee’s proposals and require large employers to report on the number of women returning to work from maternity leave and the number of employees on flexible working contracts.

“Transparency is a proven effective way of achieving progress. Publishing, and then acting to close, the gender pay and pipeline gap brings real benefits for everyone in organisations – it boosts productivity and financial results, improves culture and helps employees to trust their employers.”

A lack of flexible working opportunities

Despite the government introducing the right to ask for flexible working after 26 weeks of employment, there is still a lack of quality jobs available for flexible workers.

Research by the Timewise Foundation found that only 6.2% of job vacancies paying over £20,000 full-time equivalent are advertised as being open to some kind of flexibility. This is 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.

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

But giving everyone equal access to flexible working arrangements is one of the key tools for achieving gender parity in the workplace

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” and The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said: “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.”

The glass pyramid

As part of the investigation into the gender pay gap, CMI’s Francke spoke to the Women and Equalities Select Committee to lay down evidence from CMI’s National Management Salary Survey.

Speaking as an expert witness, she said that while steps were being made to close the gap, a glass pyramid still existed in the workplace, meaning that the situation worsened as women rose up the career ladder.

“Anyone who believes hitting the Davies’ targets abolished the glass ceiling is misguided,” she said. “Equality and fair progression means much more than having the same number of men and women on your board. Female managers face what I believe is more of a ‘glass pyramid’ than a ceiling. The walls close in with every step up, and you’re likely to slip down the pecking order when it comes to pay.

“Managers at every level should be accountable on equality, with transparency around hiring, pay and progression the effective solution. They are not doing anyone a favour by offering softer roles for mothers. Capability must not be judged on time served; it is simply a question of whether you’re up to the job. If you are, you must be paid the going rate.

“Anything else is simply discrimination.”

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