Fewer employers are promoting support for working parents new research has found, revealing a trend that could be damaging for the career prospects of many women.
Most companies, said the 2022 Parental Fog Index, are failing in a basic measure of inclusion by not being clear about family-friendly policies for would-be employees.
After three years of slow but steady growth, the research on the transparency of parental benefits, conducted by ECC for the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, found that the number of companies actively marketing their family-friendly credentials has dropped this year has fallen by 19%. Two-thirds of employers are not publishing basic details of parental pay and leave.
The trend was presented by the researchers as particularly damaging in terms of inclusion with women far more affected than men. The pool of talented women in middle management positions shrunk during the pandemic as parents made difficult choices over homeschooling and childcare.
The cost of living crisis has also damaged inclusion because the lack of affordable childcare has led many women to conclude they are better off not working. As a result there is a smaller pool of women to draw from when promoting into senior managerial positions and on to boards.
Early warning signs are emerging that suggest organisations risk replicating the motherhood penalty in new working arrangements unless they review these through the lens of working parents” – Geraldine Gallacher, CEO, ECC
Since the pandemic 13% of women in the 25-35 age bracket have left the workforce to care for their children, according to research published in the Times. This equates to the biggest rise in 30 years. And women in work say they are planning to leave at a rate of 23% (women in the C-suite), 21% (upper management) and 64% (middle management), according to Deloitte this year.
Compared with last year, a fifth fewer (19%) employers include case studies and testimony from parents on their websites, and 12% fewer talk explicitly about their commitment to working parents. The researchers said this was a missed opportunity to competitively market their offer to prospective employees.
Although the overall number of companies publishing policy details, including pay and duration of parental leave, remains about the same as last year, there was a small (4%) increase in the number publishing details of shared parental leave.
Some 33% of organisations now publish details of shared parental leave, up from 29% last year. Despite a nationwide focus on flexible working there was a dip in the publication of details of flexible work policies, down 8% from last year. Two-thirds of companies reference parental policies in general terms but provide no clear details. This figure remains unchanged from last year (67%).
Overall the number of companies that improved their ranking dropped from a record 40% last year to 11% this year. Despite this, there was a 5% increase in the number of employers awarded top-ranking, ‘beacon’ status. The study, which placed employers into five categories of visibility, rated 16% of employers in its top ‘beacon’ group up from 11% last year. A further 17% of businesses reached ‘fully visible’ status, a drop of 9% from last year. In addition to publishing full details of parental policies, these employers actively market their support to working parents as core to their employer brand.
Shared parental leave
For the 30% of businesses rated as “visible”, those which talk generally about parental support without providing details, the 20% rated foggy, that said they support working parents but don’t say how, and the 17% rated as invisible, where no evidence of support can be found, one simple change – the addition of parental policies including pay and duration of parental leave – would see them meet the threshold for parental transparency making them fully visible.
Geraldine Gallacher, CEO of ECC, said the results were disappointing from the point of view of trying to improve gender inclusion: “At a time when businesses are trying to accelerate gender equity I am concerned employers are making the job harder for themselves by not actively promoting their support for working parents. Women, specifically middle managers, the very cohort from which senior leaders and board members are promoted, were the largest group to exit the workforce during the pandemic.
“They left because it proved untenable to manage work with care responsibilities. It therefore makes sense for employers that want to regain those losses to boost not cut efforts to show they understand and can meet the needs of working parents. Listening to employers, I suspect the changes found in the research reflect a shift in priorities to promote new working arrangements for all staff.”
Gallacher said she was concerned there was an underlying assumption that hybrid and flex-for-all would “automatically normalise flexible working practices and in doing so remove the long-standing penalty on mothers’ pay and careers”.
She added: “Early warning signs are emerging that suggest organisations risk replicating the motherhood penalty in new working arrangements unless they review these through the lens of working parents. Added to which, a toxic combination of rising living costs and an imploding childcare sector mean it is going to get harder for families to afford the childcare that enables both parents to work. In the current recruitment market, employers who competitively market their support to working parents will find it easier to attract and hold on to potential women leaders”.
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