The gender gap is a well-trodden subject in the UK when it comes to businesses. Many potential solutions and a whole host of high-profile voices have had their say but I still believe that the vast majority are missing the most feasible and sensible way to help bridge this gap.
Flexible working is a concept or action that can often be misinterpreted by those who remain in the dark about it. A nice lie in, a few calls in your pyjamas and then a morning of Cash in The Attic and Bargain Hunters – this of course is far from the reality. The Flexible Working Laws were passed nearly two years ago and while it is hard to argue that there hasn’t been progression, a certain stigma and ignorance still exists when it comes to this working practice. It stems from a UK business culture with many business leaders reluctant to embrace change. While it’s of course not feasible for every person in every company to work flexibly, there is certainly one group suffering with such rigid structures – women.
This is not a soapbox moment bemoaning how women are treated in UK business but merely an observation that there is a huge opportunity for a far more level playing field. It’s a fact of life that many women in business will take time off during their careers in order to have children. It’s also unfortunately a fact of life that a good portion of these women will either struggle to find roles to suit their new lifestyle or may become so disillusioned that they forgo their careers all together. Whole generations of talented women are being lost because of a lack of business flexibility.
There are companies who are addressing this issue and helping to make strides. She’s Back, work with organisations to help attract, develop and retain the best talent, with a strong focus on women who’ve had career breaks. In their own words: “Women who left to take a career break represent the biggest single source of untapped potential in the market today.” Digital Mums are another company doing great things; they train mums in the art of being social media managers – enabling for a sensible, flexible working lifestyle. A TUC report has shown that fathers earn 21 percent more than other men while mothers over the age of 33 typically earn 15 per cent less than women without children, this simply shouldn’t be the case.
There of course will be sceptics to flexible practices, some with the notion that people may be slacking off and it can cause resentment in the workplace but surely if whole offices are given a flexible working option then this can only increase motivation. We have a number of female members of staff at Powwownow who have had children and have returned to work on flexible contracts – two examples being a member of our finance team and our head of the event conferencing sales team. It makes complete sense in this day and age as it has allowed us to retain the services of two highly competent and experienced members of staff while allowing them to have a working schedule which suits their lifestyle. Women’s careers should not suffer as a result of having children – it should never be a case of family or career; both can be made extremely viable.
Businesses should embrace the culture of flexible working, not just for parents, as it will allow them to recruit and retain the very best talent. In a recent survey we conducted, 55 per cent said that being able to work flexibly will be ‘crucial’ in their next job choice. If a business isn’t embracing flexibility, then they are simply narrowing the talent pool from which to pick from. There are of course other methods to help address the gender gap in the UK, but for me, this seems the most achievable in which a clear difference can be made.
Jacqui Beel is the head of content at Powwownow.
See also: The secret confessions of a homeworker – How flexible is working from home?