Flexible working affects mums’ ability to progress their career

5 mins

Posted on 02 Nov 2017

Nearly half of working mums think that working flexibly has affected their ability to progress their career, according to a recent survey by Workingmums.

Career progression

The survey of over 2,300 working mums who work flexibly (whether part-time, flexi hours, with a degree of home-working or in some other form) reveals that:

  • 47% considered that flexible working has affected their career progression, with only 28% saying it has had no impact
  • 52% of those working part-time felt that they have missed out on career progression opportunities or training
  • Many women have had to take pay cuts to achieve flexibility, with 44% saying they earn less than before they had children and just 27% earning more 
  • 41% felt that the fact that they work flexibly is not viewed positively by colleagues 
  • 29% felt discriminated against because they work flexibly and
  • 67% felt they had to work harder due to unconscious bias in the workplace.

Availability of flexible working 

Working mums consider that flexible working is vital for them to manage work and family life and 60% would like more flexibility, such as more homeworking or more use of jobshares.  

Whilst 42% of those who requested flexible working on returning to work after having a baby had their request agreed and 35% agreed a good compromise with their employer, the survey reveals that 11% had their request refused and 12% felt that their employer had not even considered their request. 

Interestingly, although 24% of dads work flexibly, only 4% work reduced hours, and this has barely changed over the last few years.  Dads too perceive that flexible working will damage their careers.  

The survey indicates that employers who cannot accommodate flexible working requests are losing experienced women:

  • 23% of women had flexible working requests refused
  • 19% had left as a result  
  • 35% had their request turned down for a reason other than one permitted by the flexible working legislation and
  • 57% of those whose request was refused while they were on maternity leave felt that they might not return to work.

What makes a family friendly company?

The survey asked what factors make a ‘family friendly company’.  Highest rated were: 

  • flexible hours for full-time jobs (81%)
  • regularly working from home (72%)
  • offering part time jobs (67% rated)
  • offering more flexibility during school holidays (69%)
  • allowing holiday to be taken at short notice to deal with sick children (64%) and
  • helping with childcare (56%).

Shared parental leave

Only 37% of respondents would consider shared parental leave.  43% of those who would not take it said it did not make sense financially and 59% said that enhancing Shared Parental Pay would not make any difference to their decision. 


The findings that flexible working affects career progression are not surprising. The right to request flexible working has been existence for nearly 15 years and initially was only available to parents of children under six years of age.  The right has been extended gradually over time and now anyone with 26 weeks’ service can apply, whatever the reason for wanting to work flexibly.   Employers have an obligation to consider the request reasonably and legally can only refuse a request on the grounds specified in the legislation (cost, detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff, inability to recruit additional staff, detrimental impact on quality, detrimental impact on performance, insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work and planned structural changes).   However, the reality is that the vast majority of those who ask to work flexibly are mums seeking to juggle work and family commitments.   Employers who are unable to justify refusing a flexible working request could therefore face claims of indirect sex discrimination (where compensation is uncapped and can include an award for injury to feelings), as well as a claim under flexible working legislation if they do not consider the request reasonably or reject it on impermissible grounds (where maximum compensation is 8 weeks’ capped pay, currently £3,912).   

As well as extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, at the same time the Government introduced shared parental leave with a view to enabling dads to play a greater role in caring for their children.  However, the take up has been low and many have attributed this to the fact that statutory shared parental leave is paid at the prescribed statutory rate (currently £140.98 per week ), compared to statutory maternity pay which is paid at 90% of earnings for the first six weeks).  However, this survey indicates that even enhancing shared parental pay is unlikely to increase take up, with men fearing that taking time out or working flexibly in order to spend more time with their children will cause them to suffer the same career damage as women are already experiencing.  

The survey results on what makes a family friendly company may come as a surprise to some and will give food for thought.  Flexible hours for full-time jobs and working from home may prove easier to accommodate than part-time working, and employers who are able to offer the former types of flexible working arrangements could reap the benefits through increased retention of senior, valuable, skilled staff and a happier, more productive workforce.  

The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

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