Women are bearing the brunt of caring responsibilities, with almost six out of 10 avoiding applying for promotion because it was too hard to balance work and care.
Research from Business in the Community carried out by Ipsos revealed that one in five women (19%) have left a job because of difficulties balancing work with caring responsibilities. Women account for 85% of sole carers for children, and 65% of sole carers for older adults.
Its Who Cares? report found that workers from black, Asian, mixed race or other ethnically diverse groups are disproportionately affected, according to BITC. One in two who have caring responsibilities say they have been unable to pursue certain jobs or promotions, while a third have left or considered leaving a job due to lack of flexibility. By comparison, one in five (21%) white people have done the same.
Over a third (35%) of all adults and 44% of working adults have caring responsibilities. The proportion of people from ethnic minority backgrounds who care for a child or adult is higher, at 42%.
While 94% of those surveyed by Ipsos felt caring responsibilities should be spread equally, 52% of women said they did more than their fair share, and 30% of men admitted to doing less. One in five men said caring responsibilities had stopped them applying for a job or promotion.
Women make up over half of the lone carers for all groups, including 85% of lone carers for children, 54% of lone carers for working age adults, and 65% of lone carers for older adults. People who care for older adults (68%) are less likely to feel supported than those with childcare responsibilities (78%) or caring for working age adults (77%).
That said, more men than women (22% vs 15%) felt unsupported at work, and 57% of all respondents felt that men were less likely to gain support at work if they were juggling childcare responsibilities.
Unsurprisingly, this impacts employees’ working day. Fifty-two percent of women, compared with 42% of men, said their day job has been interrupted because something came up with the child or adult they care for.
When it came to asking for flexible working arrangements to support caring responsibilities, more than half of respondents said they would not feel comfortable, despite the focus on this during the pandemic. Forty-three percent still think there is a stigma around working flexibly.
More than one in three respondents (35%) believe flexible working blocks career progression, with fewer than one in five (17%) having asked their employer to work flexibly. Of those who had made formal requests, 80% had had them accepted.
Employees on higher salaries tended to be granted the most flexibility, with 75% of those earning more than £26,000 a year feeling supported to manage caring responsibilities. Only 50% of those earning less than that figure enjoyed the same freedom.
Meanwhile, more than one in four (28%) of those working shifts said they did not feel supported by their employer, compared with 10% of those working regular office hours.
Many carers (8%) identified themselves as “sandwich carers”, who look after children and older adults at the same time.
Challenging the stigma
Seven in 10 carers want businesses and the government to increase their commitment to gender equality at work by supporting more options for flexible working. Two-thirds said offering information on flexible working options was one of the most convincing ways to demonstrate their commitment, and 70% said these options needed to be promoted to both men and women in order to challenge the stigma around male caregivers.
The charity has urged the government and employers to look at four key areas for improvement in supporting employees with caring responsibilities:
- Consider caring the norm, not the exception
- Champion equitable access to care for all genders in your policies
- Foster a culture that supports men to care
- Target men for flexible working
Charlotte Woodworth, gender equality campaign director at BITC, said employers needed to see that caring for children and adults is “a routine part of many people’s lives”.
“Otherwise, we will continue to see working carers, particularly women and people from Black, Asian, mixed race and other ethnically diverse backgrounds, pushed down and in some cases out of the workforce,” she said.
“Flexibility is key, thinking not just about where work is done, but also when. We need to move past old fashioned ideas about five days a week, 9-5, in one location and support everyone to craft a better work life balance, that doesn’t see some people penalised because they can’t work in a certain way.”
Woodworth reiterated the need to ensure male carers are included in flexible working strategies.
She added: “We need to overhaul out-of-date policies that presume only women want to take time out to look after the kids. The government should support employers to offer stand-alone, subsidised paternity leave, in keeping with most people’s beliefs that people of all genders should be supported to care”.
Ipsos chief executive Kelly Beaver said: “A record number of women are in paid work in the UK, and they make up nearly 50% of the workforce, but our research shows that many feel they are held back in their careers by caring responsibilities which are not shared evenly.
“The majority of those we surveyed believe that more of this responsibility should be shared equally, irrespective of gender, and that employers have a key role in making flexibility at work the rule not the exception.
“This research is invaluable in helping employers and policy makers to respond to the increasing demand for a more flexible approach to working and I am proud that at Ipsos we are leading the way, for example all our UK employees are offered equal paid maternity and paternity leave, because we firmly believe that the responsibility of raising a child should not be determined by your gender”.
Last year, the government confirmed plans to introduce a new statutory right to carer’s leave – first announced in the Queen’s Speech in 2019 – but the timeline for this legislation is yet to be confirmed.