Caring responsibilities barring half of adults from seeking promotions, research warns

More women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds seeing careers disproportionately affected because of need to balance work and care

More than half of working adults have not applied for a promotion or new job because they have caring responsibilities, research has found.

A survey of 5,444 people, conducted by Ipsos for Business in the Community (BITC), found that 58 per cent of respondents said caring responsibilities – either for children or another adult – had stopped them seeking a promotion or new role.

It also found that nearly three in 10 (28 per cent) had left a job because it was too hard to balance work and care.

Women were significantly more likely than men to report leaving a job because of difficulties balancing work and their caring role (19 per cent and 9 per cent respectively), while 17 per cent of female respondents said they had considered quitting, compared to 12 per cent of men. 

More than half (52 per cent) of women polled also said they did more than their fair share as joint carers, in comparison to just 10 per cent of men.

The research also highlighted how people from ethnic minority backgrounds were also disproportionately affected by care responsibilities.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

Half (50 per cent) of people from ethnic minority backgrounds reported that they had been unable to pursue certain jobs or promotions due to their care responsibilities outside work, compared to two in five (39 per cent) white respondents.

In addition, nearly a third (32 per cent) of carers from ethnic minority backgrounds said they had left or considered leaving a job due to a lack of flexibility, compared with one in five (21 per cent) white respondents.

Overall, two in five (41 per cent) of people from ethnic minority backgrounds also said they have caring responsibilities, while only a third (34 per cent) of people from white backgrounds said the same. 

Commenting on the findings, Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD, said it was important for firms to recognise that some employees have to balance caring responsibilities alongside their work. 

“Every situation is different, so employers will need to speak to individuals about the arrangements and support that will best suit them,” she explained, suggesting that offering some flexible work options can make it easier for people to balance work with caring responsibilities where possible. 

“This could include flexi-time, compressed hours or part-time working, for example,” she said, adding that carers’ leave, both paid and unpaid, can also be helpful.

Charlotte Woodworth, gender equality campaign director at BITC, agreed that “flexibility is key”, adding that firms need to “move past old-fashioned ideas about five days a week, nine to five, in one location”.

She warned that, if employers didn’t adjust working cultures to better support staff with caring responsibilities, they would continue to see working carers, particularly women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds, “pushed down and in some cases out” of the workforce.

The survey found that two in five (43 per cent) respondents said there was still a stigma around flexible working, with a third (35 per cent) reporting that flexible working blocked career progression.

Less than a fifth (17 per cent) of people said that they had asked their employer to work flexibly. However, the research did reveal that the majority (80 per cent) of people who made formal flexible working requests had seen them accepted.

The research also found that almost three in five (57 per cent) people polled said men were less likely to be supported at work with their childcare responsibilities.

Among these respondents, priorities for improvements included flexible working being promoted to men and women (70 per cent); challenging the stigma around male caregivers (46 per cent); and offering longer paid time off for new fathers (36 per cent).

Woodworth added that firms need to make sure men were also given the opportunity to care. 

“We need to overhaul out-of-date policies that presume only women want to take time out to look after the kids,” she said and called for the government to support employers in offering a stand-alone, subsidised paternity leave.