London mayor Ken Livingstone added his weight to the debate about the value of part-time working after academics warned that female talent was being wasted by outdated employment practices.
Livingstone said the critical issue was the loss to the economy as a result of staff, particularly women, being forced out of work or into jobs that do not use their skills, just to get the flexibility they needed.
“Research for the Greater London Authority has shown that if the proportion of women in part-time work in London was the same as the national average, London’s economic output would be £1.4bn greater every year,” he said. “That is a loss to the economy that London businesses cannot afford to ignore.”
Separate research by Sheffield Hallam University revealed that half of women in low-paid, part-time jobs are working below their potential and that managers are often unaware of the skills and aspirations of these women.
Based on interviews with 219 part-time women and senior managers across 20 workplaces, the research found that women were held back by a lack of part-time work above the lowest grade and that managers were mostly resistant to making more senior jobs part-time.
The study, funded by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the European Social Fund, also found that women lost confidence in their skills while in low-paid part-time work and became trapped.
Linda Grant, senior lecturer at the Centre for Social Inclusion at Sheffield Hallam University, who led the study, said women themselves were very aware that the part-time jobs they could get offered few prospects and disadvantaged them economically.
“Many women want or have to work part-time, but this does not mean that they are happy to be stuck in low-level, poorly paid work,” she said. “These women are frustrated that their current jobs do not enable them to use their skills, experience and qualifications. Part-time jobs need to be developed across all occupations and must include opportunities in senior roles.”
Jenny Watson, acting chair of the EOC, said, many employers created a “working-time ghetto” of low pay and low prospects by restraining flexibility.
“With these outdated attitudes, it’s no surprise that the pay gap between women working part-time and men working full-time is stuck at 40% – a figure that has barely changed in 30 years,” she said. “It’s time for a transformation in UK workplaces, time for flexibility to become the norm at all levels of employment.”
But Susan Anderson, CBI director of HR policy, said working part-time did not make women second-class citizens.
“Increasingly, women are choosing to remain in their previous jobs, but on a part-time basis while they balance home and work responsibilities,” she said. “Some of them may want to return to full-time work at a later date.”