Eight in 10 working mums feel ‘trapped’ by lack of flexibility

More than half of women have seen no career progression since having children, survey finds, as experts call for flexible working to become the ‘norm

More than three-quarters of working mothers feel trapped in their current job because they worry about finding another with enough flexibility, a new survey has revealed. 

In the poll of more than 2,000 parents by jobsite workingmums.co.uk, 80 per cent of mothers said they felt stuck in their current role because they didn’t feel confident they would find another one with the amount of flexibility they needed.

The majority of mothers (57 per cent) said their career had not progressed since they had children.

Although 59 per cent of female respondents said that flexible working is the one thing that would help them most to progress in their careers, half of the mothers surveyed (43 per cent) said they didn’t have enough flexibility in their job. 

According to the survey, a fifth of working mothers (21 per cent) worked full time with no option of flexibility, while 23 per cent worked full time with some flexibility. Just 1 per cent of mums worked full time from home, while 3 per cent worked full time with some home working. 

In contrast, nearly half (46 per cent) of dads surveyed work full time with no flexibility, while 36 per cent were able to work full time with some flexibility.

More than a third of all parents surveyed reported feeling discriminated against for working flexibly.

Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, described the findings as “concerning”, and said: “Much more needs to be done to widen access to flexible working so that it becomes the norm for organisations and available to all employees.”

McCartney emphasised the importance of having visible role models who work flexibly and have progressed within their organisation, and said employers needed to make sure managers held regular development conversations with all employees regardless of their working pattern.

“They also need to ensure that flexible jobs are designed properly and are not just full-time roles squeezed into reduced hours,” said McCartney.

Gillian Nissim, founder of workingmums.co.uk, said the survey showed how significant flexible working was becoming for jobseekers. “As skills shortages become larger in many sectors, employers should take note of the demand for flexible working and the push for greater flexibility, taking into account all the many forms it can come in,” she said.

The survey also found that flexible working patterns were just as popular with young people. Two in five (41 per cent) respondents under 21-years-old researched the flexible working policies of a company before applying for their last job, and 34 per cent said they would not take a job without any flexibility.

This was similar to the proportion of working mothers who favour flexibility, with 34 per cent researching flexible working policies before applying for a job, and 31 per cent reporting they would not have accepted their current job were it not for flexible working. 

All UK employees have the right, by law, to request flexible hours once they have worked at a company for 26 weeks.

Separately, recent analysis of figures by the ONS revealed that public sector workers were nearly twice as likely to have access to flexible working than private sector workers. The figures show that 42 per cent of public sector workers had access to flexible working patterns such as flexitime or compressed hours, compared with just 21 per cent of workers in the private sector.

But, particularly in the largest public sector employers such as healthcare and education, the ONS said flexible working patterns were strongly affected by the demands of jobs and not necessarily the needs of workers.