Half of working mothers do not receive the flexibility they request at work.
According to research by the TUC and campaign group Mother Pukka, 50% of working mothers have experienced their employer rejecting or only accepting part of their flexible working request.
The study of 13,000 women also found that many (42%) were dissuaded from asking for flexible working because they feared a negative reaction from their employer or it would simply be turned down. Only 5% of working mothers said they hadn’t made a flexible working request because they didn’t need it.
A large majority of women who work flexibly said they had faced discrimination and disadvantage at work because of their working arrangements.
More than nine out of 10 (92%) of working mothers who currently work flexibly told the TUC they would find it difficult or impossible to do their job without it.
The TUC said there was overwhelming support from respondents for having the right to work flexibly from day one in a new job. Almost all respondents also agreed they would be more likely to apply for a job if it included the specific types of flexible working available in the advert (99%).
A government consultation began in September 2021 proposing giving all employees day one rights to request flexible working. Currently employees have to have been in post for 26 weeks before having the right to make a request. The consultation ends in December.
The founder of Mother Pukka, Anna Whitehouse, said she was inspired to campaign on the issue because of personal experience: “I started the Flex Appeal movement after my flexible working request was denied 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.
“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.
“In December 2019, the Queen announced flexible working as a key focus for the Employment Bill. Flexible working is firmly on Whitehall’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but the legal right to flexible working must be made available from the get-go if we’re going to finally change this outdated and discriminative system for good.”
The Flex for All alliance, which is supported by Pregnant then Screwed, Fawcett Society, Mother Pukka, the Young Women’s Trust and the Fatherhood Institute wants employers to publish flexible working options in job adverts, give successful applicants a day-one right to take it up – not just request it, and the right to appeal against any rejections.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added that the current system was broken. : “Employers still have free rein to turn down requests for flexible working”, she said. “And women are too scared to ask for flexible working at job interviews, for fear of being discriminated against.
“Ministers need to do more than just tinker with a flawed system. They need to change the law so that all jobs are advertised with flexible options clearly stated, and all workers have the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.”
The TUC is calling for a legal right to flexible work to be advertised with every job, as government consults on new rights.