Third of working parents say caring responsibilities hold them back from promotion, poll reveals

Experts say flexible working arrangements are the best way employers can give all staff ‘fair chance to progress’

More than a third of employees say being a parent is stalling their career progress, according to a recent study, but experts suggest adopting flexible working arrangements will help firms support employees.

A survey by Working Families of 750 parents with children under the age of 18 who were either working or on flexi-furlough in August 2021, found that 35 per cent said that being a parent and having caring responsibilities holds them back from promotion at work. Among mothers specifically, this number rose to two in five (41 per cent).

Almost as many (38 per cent) said that the people who worked the longest hours were the most respected by senior leaders in their organisation, while more than two in five (44 per cent) of working parents felt that the senior leaders in their organisation were not positive role models for achieving a good work-life balance.

Among the respondents, Working Families revealed 105 (14 per cent) had additional caring responsibilities such as caring for a sick, elderly or disabled family member, on top of being a parent. Of this group, half (50 per cent) said being a carer was holding back their opportunities to be promoted.

Among all of the surveyed working parents, more than a third (36 per cent) were concerned that taking time off for caring needs would be frowned upon at work, rising to nearly half (48 per cent) among those with additional caring responsibilities.

However, there were some positive results for working parents too. More than half (54 per cent) said their organisation supports parents and people with caring responsibilities effectively, while two in five (41 per cent) said that the pandemic has had a positive impact on workplace culture at their organisation.

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In addition, half (50 per cent) of all working parents polled said open conversations about wellbeing and mental health were more accepted at work now than they were before the pandemic, increasing to nearly two thirds (61 per cent) among those with additional caring responsibilities.

Commenting on the research, Felicia Willow, chief executive at The Fawcett Society, said it was women who took on the bulk of caring responsibilities for their children or other family members, and that workplaces needed to encourage men to take on a fair share of this typically unpaid work. “The glacial pace of change to achieving gender equality isn't good enough,” she said.

“Creating a new norm where every job is required to be advertised as flexible will drive a transformation in workplace culture which will support parents, carers and indeed everyone in the workplace who needs or values flexibility,” she also advised. 

Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD, echoed that firms need to look at what flexible working arrangements they could offer employees. 

“Flexible working is good for inclusion, wellbeing and performance, and will help employers attract and retain a more diverse workforce with the right skills,” she explained. 

She told People Management that flexible arrangements, such as flexi-time, compressed hours, part-time working or job shares, could all mean “people are able to better manage their workload around other responsibilities and means everyone has a fair chance to progress.”

The CIPD is urging all employers to advertise that they are open to flexible working on all job postings through their Flex From 1st campaign.

Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, added that while it was “depressing” to see that in 2021 being a parent was still seen as a barrier to being promoted at work, the pandemic had sped up a shift in how many people want to work. 

“Those resisting positive change will find it comes back to bite them,” she said. “Faced with a choice between an employer who puts effort into employee wellbeing and one that celebrates unhealthy working practices, I think we can all guess where the best and brightest talent is going to go.”

During National Work Life Week this week (11-15 October), she said that Working Families was encouraging employers to focus on helping teams get the balance between work and home right, and use it as an opportunity to have some open conversations with their employees about the change they want to see.

The organisation also suggested companies have a performance management process that focuses on values and rewards outputs and actively discourages presenteeism. 

It advised line managers should be given training on how to support parents and carers, and on how to get the best from teams working in a variety of flexible ways as well as raising awareness around wellbeing and mental health.