Why Flexible Working Is Not Working for Working Mothers

Thanks to Covid (never thought I will have anything to thank Covid for), flexible working is now a thing. Before the pandemic, only slackers worked flexibly, everyone else was busy breaking their backs in their place of work. Now that even ‘old school’ managers can bring themselves to spit out the words ‘flexible working’, is this working to everyone’s benefit?

The working families index has been published for 2022 and it makes for very interesting reading indeed. Two key highlights caught my attention: 

  1. Flexible working can be linked to career progression, but mothers and particularly those in part-time roles still suffer disproportionately when it comes to career progression.
  2. Inequality of access is the next big challenge: access to flexibility continues to be tied to income and particular types of industry and job roles.


Career Progression

The part-time workers are predominantly women because they choose to work around their childcare responsibilities. I say choose but there is a societal expectation that the woman adjusts her career expectations to become the primary caregiver, so not sure how much of a choice that is. Men do not have that pressure and if they opt for that role, they are indeed applauded even if they were the lower earner.

The main point here is that women are forced into part-time roles that limit their career progression. The working family index shows that 59% of full-time workers report moderate to significant career progression as opposed to 47% of part-time workers who are predominantly women. The numbers are worse if you look at income. Households earning £60K plus report 65% career progression as opposed to lower-income households, those made up of those same part-time working mothers, earning £25K or less, reporting 43% career progression.

So working mothers are forced into these part-time jobs and we are all hailing it as progress because there is now flexibility, but what about their career progression?


Access to flexibility

When it comes to access to flexibility: home-based, hybrid, the dreaded part-time, job share, etc., whatever form it takes, do we have equality of access to said flexibility? Well, the answer is ‘no’ according to the index. Some sectors work more flexibly than others and surprise, surprise, the sectors that don’t work as flexibly are the ones that are dominated by women!

Sectors like Marketing, Advertising, Business Consulting, Accounting, and Finance, over 80% work more flexibly whereas sectors like Retail, Healthcare, and Education, again dominated by women, work less than 65% flexibly.

So again, the working mothers who will benefit the most from flexibility feel the crunch in the industries where they dominate.


This is not to say working mothers are doomed forever in their careers. It is not easy, the odds are currently not stacked in our favour but who knew Covid could come and turn the tide. We can’t keep waiting for pandemics to come and give us the conditions we need to make the workplace work for both working families and everyone else. Policies and working practices have to change to stop working mothers from burning out and leaving the workplace altogether.

One of the other findings of the index was that workers will stay with an employer if they have flexible working practices. So who is for keeping their talent in house?

For the working mothers out there who are waiting for the next pandemic to come and course-correct working practices, life is too short. You need to start taking care of yourself, your decisions, and your choices. If enough of us do that, you never know, we might hit a critical mass and turn the tide, no pandemic needed.


If you are a working mother and you feel burned out by your current workplace practices, grab a chat with me here. If you want to hear more from me, you might be interested in my FREE masterclass – register here to watch anytime.