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How can we make flexible working fit for purpose for parents?

Career progression and flexible working: making it work for women

Using the Working Families 2022 Index data, the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership conducted an analysis to better understand gender differences in career progression amongst the flexible workforce. Based on the analysis, we offer recommendations for employers to help ensure that both women and men can flourish when working flexibly.

Read the briefing


Working parents, flexibility and job quality: what are the trade-offs?

This report, produced in collaboration with the charity Working Families, and the University of East Anglia, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found that the UK government’s commitment to flexible working will falter unless more is done to overcome the huge barriers that remain to adopting the practice.

We found that employers’ denial of flexible working requests for unsubstantiated reasons, a lack of knowledge of how to deal with them and unsupportive workplace cultures are hindering more widespread adoption of flexible approaches, which would be a boost to the “levelling up” agenda and improve gender equality.

The report – which is informed by in-depth focus groups with working parents – emphasises that job and financial security, control over when and how work is carried out, and support from managers, are all highly valued by parents and must be combined with flexible approaches.

The report offers recommendations to improve the working lives of parents. For government, these include:

  • Using the forthcoming Employment Bill to support employees’ rights to access suitable working arrangements and improve job control and security, including through advanced notice of shifts for shift workers, and a requirement that all jobs should be designed and advertised with flexible working options.
  • Recognising in the forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper the potential of flexible working to distribute opportunities more fairly across the UK and widen access to the labour market, particularly for single parents.
  • Urgently addressing the problems with childcare affordability, quality and availability, and make free universal childcare available from 39 weeks.

For employers these include:

  • Designing and advertising all jobs as flexible unless there is a strong business case that this is not possible.
  • Not using unsubstantiated “business needs” to justify refusing flexible working requests. Instead provide evidence to support their justification and considering alternative working arrangements if requests cannot be accommodated.
  • Asking working parents what they need and value at work and helping them to achieve that, rather than relying on assumptions. This includes looking at schedules, hours, workload changes or other ways to improve job quality.

Read the research