Another day, another headline about the gender gap in business. Scotland recently announced their government target of 50:50 representation by 2020. This would mean that half of all businesses would have to show how half of their management staff are made up of women. One popular argument against gender equality in the boardroom is that women are the only sex able to have children, and therefore their careers will naturally suffer. At its very core, this argument fails to appreciate why the gender gap has even come about.
Flexible working has been touted as the solution to the gender representation gap for some time, and yet companies are still slow on the uptake. In 2017, it is expected that half of the companies in the UK will offer flexible working, but this obviously means that the other half won’t. As flexible working is a legal right, we expect to see more and more cases in front of courts as employers and employees tussle it out over workers’ rights.
As with all areas of the law, flexible working requests are nuanced and complex. This is particularly true when companies and employees have failed to keep accurate paper trails of communication between parties. Although some employees and employers might think they can get away with being informal about this topic – particularly in smaller companies – this simply isn’t the case and both sides should be wary about familiarity.
A common complaint is that workers assumed their employer would be more accommodating, and when their request is rejected they assume it was simply an adverse reaction to the idea of change. More needs to be done to encourage companies to adopt flexible working practices if we are ever to address the gender pay gap.
While women might be the only ones who can have children, they aren’t the only ones capable of caring for those children. More should be done to make it easier for men to adapt their working lives to caring for their children. Flexible working isn’t only about making it easier for women to return to work in the same capacity as before they became mothers, but it should also be about making it easier for men to share care responsibilities.
In the UK, the process for filing a flexible working request can take upwards of six months, and taking legal action once the employment lawyers are brought in can take even longer. By making guidelines for employers and employees much clearer, and encouraging more men to make the same request as women, we should be on our way to closing that gender pay gap once and for all.
Rebecca Harper is a freelance writer living in Southampton, United Kingdom.