From the research I’ve done for and since the writing of my book to support women back into work after children (Mothers Work! Published by Hay House June 6th 2011) I’m concluding that the single most significant thing anyone can do to narrow the pay gap between men and women, mothers and non-mothers is to increase the status of part time work.
Part time work should be a hot topic in every organisation given the thousands of actual and redundancies-in-waiting in the UK at the moment. For instance, employees downshifting into 0.8 of a full time role could save jobs in the long run and circumvent the myriad of problems that arise when people are out of work. It’s been reported on Radio 4 by some authority figure (don’t ask me whom or when – I think it was the chap who did a white paper report into problems of the long term unemployed or some such) that it becomes much, much harder to get people back into work once they have been out of work for 6 months. (I expect this stat does not refer to maternity/paternity leavers who have a return agreement).
My own interest in PT work stems not from trying to get pay equality for mothers (though I am very keen to see this happen) but because quality PT work is what mothers everywhere are clamouring for. On the whole women don’t want to work FT when they have a young family and because of this there is a tendency to downgrade professionally after children because ‘quality’ PT work isn’t offered in the same abundance at experienced/senior levels as it is in the junior and/or less well paid jobs in our society.
It doesn’t make sense.
A couple of months ago I had lunch with John O’Sullivan, the bright and switched on co-founder of Ten2Two, a recruitment agency specialising in PT roles for career minded people. Amongst other golden nuggets what came out of our meeting is that organisations are slowly getting turned on by the idea of hiring men and women with a wealth of experience to work just two or three days a week – in even the most senior roles. John told me about a couple of exec level jobs paying around £100K/year for 2.5/3 days per week and that (this is the really good bit as far as I’m concerned) the ratio of male to female applicants was about 10:1. If men want quality PT roles as much as women the status of part time work has to rise and the availability of it, with it.
It is a sad fact that the majority of UK organisations are still run wholly or significantly by white males, in a masculine way. [I’m not elaborating on what I mean by that here as it’s a side issue to the point of this article.] And this being the case, it’s usually only when men want/need/see the benefit of something that things will change. I know there are some terrific women out there making inroads into what and how things get done and whilst not on many people’s favourite list at the moment I can’t help but admire the way Barclays’ head of people, Cathy Turner operates for one.
In another recent conversation I was warned by another coach/business leader to stay away from talking about ‘women returner programmes’ when I meet with HR/talent professionals as it’s not something that has got many people’s interest (yet). Far better she said to talk about ‘leadership’ and ‘engagement’ more broadly than to suggest an innovative, cost-effective ‘maternity comeback’ programme aimed at very large employers. There is absolutely a need for such a thing if we are to increase the flow of women up the elevator to the boardroom (and this has been covered in many UK newspapers Feb ’11 owing to the threat of legislation around women quotas on boards). If we lose women after children, typically when they still have 25-30 working years ahead of them, we have a problem. There are many more examples of childless women (or step mothers who haven’t taken time out for maternity leave) than mothers who’ve taken time out to reproduce and nurture children, who make it to the top of companies.
Not everyone wants to make it to ‘the top’ at work and what is ‘top’ might not necessarily equate to being on the board. I’m more concerned with people, and men and women with caring roles especially, having access to quality PT work when it makes sense for both the organisation and the individual, whatever their aspirations.
On a separate but related note I’m delighted that another women championing the PT work cause, the co-founder of Women Like Us, Karen Mattison, has written the foreword to Mothers Work!
Please do leave a comment about your experience of recruiting for, applying for or working part-time – especially if you have a positive story to share. You might also want to join the discussion and offer your perspective on working motherhood on the Mothers Work! facebook page or pre-order Mothers Work!