A report published today by Acas calls for more flexible working for parents returning to work after parental leave as a way to tackle gender inequality and the gender pay gap.
The report emphasises that while women lose out on promotion, men also pay a ‘parenthood penalty’ by spending less time with their children and families. The low take-up of flexible working arrangements and even paternity leave is proof of this.
The report, Flexible Working for Parents Returning to Work – Maintaining career development, by the Institute of Employment Studies, draws on existing research evidence and a series of case studies.
Author Mary Mercer found that women are encouraged by employers to take maternity leave, keep in touch and be informed about flexible working on return, whereas fathers are treated differently.
More on flexible working and shared parental leave
Survey evidence suggests most fathers take some leave for the birth of their child, but it is often annual leave. Employers are less likely to enhance paternity pay, encourage the father to take paternity leave, or remind them of flexible working policies.
The report finds: “There is a risk that organisations that have an enhanced maternity package but that have not enhanced shared parental leave pay will be seen to be signalling some form of status quo bias.”
Employers are urged to view flexibility as a business tool that can create an agile and responsive workforce, rather than as a reactive response to accommodate caring responsibilities. Flexible working for male and female parents can result in reduced costs and increases in employee loyalty and productivity, if the right balance is achieved.
But first, managers need to challenge the perceived view that working long hours and visibility at work is linked to good performance.
Acas head of strategy Gill Dix said: “Our new research looks at the day-to-day reality of flexible working for employers and parents returning to work. It shows that, if managed well, flexible working can help motivate staff, increase productivity and create a greater sense of well-being.
“But there are challenges. For example, the study found that some flexible workers can be wrongly pigeonholed as being less ambitious. The independent report calls for a wider cultural change, with flexible working being promoted equally for men and women.”
The report offers examples of good practice, where companies have:
- equalised opportunities for paid leave for mothers and fathers and which actively encourage fathers to take leave;
- been consistent in their approach to people requesting flexible working;
- assessing requests on the basis of whether it can be accommodated by the business and not on the reason for the request;
- spent time and energy in training managers in developing the skills they need to have in challenging conversations and to manage flexible teams;
- looked at how they manage performance and fairness in the system;
- developed specific schemes to support and encourage returners, looking at how work is organised, how opportunities are promoted and how those having a break can return and maintain a career track.