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Offering return-to-work mothers flexibility in the workplace can reap benefits for your business
Many a working mother will recognise the pitfalls of combining a career with raising a young family. The crippling cost of childcare, unsympathetic employers and judgemental colleagues, that feeling of spreading yourself too thin, always chasing your tail… sound familiar?
One route towards a healthier work/life balance is flexible working. Indeed, according to research conducted by Digital Mums – a social media and digital training company that helps parents to find rewarding flexible careers that fit around their families – seven in ten stay-at-home mums would go back to work if flexible working was an option.
“Mothers returning from a career break often struggle to find roles that offer the flexibility needed to fit their work around the family,” says Kathryn Tyler, who co-founded Digital Mums with Nikki Cochrane. “This means they often compromise and take lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs, which contributes to the gender pay gap. Or they are forced back into full-time work and their emotional health suffers as they struggle with the juggle of raising a family and holding down a full-time job.”
And let’s not forget the dads in this tale, either. Fathers are taking on a greater percentage of childcare than ever before. According to a parliamentary report published last year, in 1961 the amount of time fathers spent caring for pre-schoolers was 12% to 15% of the time mothers spent; by 2017 it had increased to almost half.
That said, recent research also shows that, while 83% of parents believe society’s attitudes towards childcare have changed since they were young, two thirds (64%) of mothers are still the primary carers for their children.
As such, businesses need to be more open-minded about embracing flexible working for mothers – this could be in the form of compressed working hours, job shares, part-time work or working remotely. After all, working mums are a valuable asset: they’re driven and organised, all too aware of the constraints of time. What company doesn’t want an employee like that?
“All too often, people consider working mothers to be less committed to their careers and less productive, particularly if they work part-time,” says Tyler. “There is no evidence to support this; in fact, research swings in the opposite direction with some studies showing mothers to be more productive employees. So few flexible roles are offered in the labour market that if you empower working mothers with a flexible, rewarding career they will reward you with commitment and loyalty.
“If employers could do one thing to transform the lives of working parents and to transform their productivity overall, it would be to shift from a presenteeism culture to an output culture. This means moving away from judging employees on the number of hours spent in the office, and instead shifting focus to whether employees are delivering results in their role, regardless of how many hours they work, when they work or from where.”
Those mums considering a return to work shouldn’t be afraid to ask for more flexible terms. Under existing law, all employees have the right to request flexible working, though there are stipulations: you must, for example, have been with your employer for at least 26 weeks. Any less, and it’s up to the employer’s discretion but they have to consider all statutory requests by law.
Return-to-work mums should also make sure they’re up to speed with social media and digital know-how. It’s for this reason that Digital Mums was founded – to upskill women through their courses so they can find rewarding and flexible careers, and to help bring #WorkThatWorks to mothers everywhere.
“Employers cite outdated skills as a major reason for not hiring career-breakers, so investing in getting your skillset bang up-to-date is key if you’ve been out of the workplace for a while,” says Tyler. “In particular, possessing in-demand digital skills can be transformative when returning to work. The women we train have had more success negotiating flexible work options as their in-demand skillsets put them in a position of strength.”
Flexibility in the workplace is win-win, benefiting businesses and mothers alike. “Being able to flex your hours and location of work is a gamechanger for working parents that need to do school runs and attend school events,” says Tyler. “It can reduce the need for long and stressful commutes and can increase the hours available for focused work. This is why the mothers we train are increasingly turning to freelancing, so they have total control over their working lives.”