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Half of flexible working requests by working mums are denied, poll finds

15 Oct 2021 By Jessica Brown

Businesses need to ‘proactively consider’ flexibility in every role if they want to attract and retain the best talent, experts say

Half of working mothers don’t receive the flexibility they ask for at work, while those who do work flexibly face discrimination, a study has found. 

The poll of almost 13,000 working mums, conducted by the TUC and flexible working campaigner Mother Pukka, found that 50 per cent of respondents who made flexible working requests had them either partially or fully denied.

Many working mothers were also worried about asking for flexible working; two in five (42 per cent) said they were concerned their employers would react negatively to them asking for flexible working, while the same percentage said they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking about flexible working in a job interview because they thought they would be discriminated against.



Of those who had never made a flexible working request, only 5 per cent said it was because they didn’t need it.

This is despite more than nine in 10 (92 per cent) working mums who currently work flexibly believing they would find it difficult or impossible to do their job without it.

Of those who were already working flexibly, 86 per cent said they had faced discrimination at work because of their flexible work arrangements.


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While the legal right to request flexible working has been in place for around 20 years, Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said the current system was “broken”.

“There is overwhelming support for mums and all working parents to be able to work flexibly to manage their work and caring commitments,” she said. “It’s time to make flexible working the norm as we emerge from the pandemic. It’s the best way to keep women in work and to close the gender pay gap,” she said.

The union called on employers to think upfront about the flexible working options that are available in a role, publish these in all job adverts and allow candidates to take it up from their first day.

The survey also polled working mothers about how they felt the rules around flexible working should change. Nearly every respondent (99 per cent) said employers should be legally obliged to advertise flexible working in job adverts, and the successful candidate should have the right to take up this flexibility from their first day on the job. 

The same proportion said they would be more likely to apply for a job if the advert included the specific types of flexible working available, which could include home working, job sharing, agreed predictable hours, term-time working, flexi-time and condensed hours.

Anna Whitehouse, founder of Mother Pukka, said that despite flexible working being “firmly on Whitehall’s table”, half of working mothers were still having their flexible working requests turned down.

“There is a break in the floodgates, but the legal right to flexible working must be made available from the get-go if we’re going to finally change this outdated and discriminative system for good,” she said.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said the poll’s findings highlighted how too many organisations still had inflexible and outdated ways of working.

“The increasingly strong business case for flexible working as a means of recruiting and retaining a more diverse workforce is an important driver for change and making the right to request flexible working a day one right can also support greater provision and uptake of flexible working,” Willmott said.

Emma Stewart, co-founder of Timewise, added that the responsibility needed to shift “from individuals to have to ask for flex to employers to choose to proactively consider it in every role, if [employers] want to retain and attract the widest pool of talent and ensure our workplaces are genuinely inclusive.”

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