Sam Grimstone, NCT Executive Director of Communications and Development lends her voice to Digital Mums' #WorkThatWorks campaign and urges UK businesses to move flexibility in the workplace from niche to norm.
You might think in 2016 it would be easier than ever to be a working mum. Yet, new research published by Digital Mums today, shows that for a large number of mums the absence of flexible working arrangements is preventing them from getting back into work. For those that do return to work, too often having children can be career suicide.
The alarming level of maternity discrimination in this country is compounding this problem. Many new mums are afraid to take time off work. These archaic business attitudes remain embedded in the dark ages; one that values presence over performance. Women who re-enter the workplace after maternity leave are often faced with a triple whammy of biases: gender, age, and perceived skills gap. They're seen as unambitious – having ‘chosen’ to be mothers or carers rather than scale the corporate ladder.
These biases – whether conscious or not – are entrenched in so many businesses. I have seen first-hand people who make assumptions about flexible workers, in particular mums. They believe flexible workers are not interested in training and development, aren’t fully committed to the organisation, or don’t have any career aspirations.
But things are slowly starting to change. Over the past few years, some organisations have woken-up to the potential benefits of mums returning to work and a number have launched formal schemes to help women get back into the workplace and juggle the commitments of a family.
While this is a start, we need to be honest with ourselves. A cultural shift must occur in businesses around flexible working, so requests for reduced or alternative hours don’t mean less commitment, ambition, or skill.
As a mum of three who works flexibly in a senior role, I am ashamed that I am the exception rather than the norm. Working within NCT, an organisation that has embraced flexible working on such as large scale and with such success has opened my eyes, beyond my personal experience, to its benefits. Seeing it in action there is no doubt in my mind that flexible working is a win-win for both the organisation and employees.
Of course working flexibly is not just for mums nor is it limited to caring for young families. It also encompasses caring for other family members, undertaking community roles, studying and volunteering. And it is all of these ‘extra’ parts of our lives and the different skill sets gained from them that enrich employees and truly benefit the organisation.
At NCT we have staff who work remotely, staff who work compressed weeks, staff who are part-time, and staff that job share. And it works simply because we want it to. And that commitment is all it takes.
By the time my kids enter the workforce, it is my hope that flexibility in the workplace is the standard, not an allowance afforded to the chosen few. I want them to live in a world where their professional worth is valued over their ability to clock in from 9 to 5.
So I am adding my voice to the #WorkThatWorks campaign – unless we do something today to improve the situation facing mums returning to the workforce, then the problem for many women will continue to fester, crushing their confidence and ability to be both caregiver and breadwinner.
By changing our thinking and focusing on making flexibility in the workplace the norm, we have the opportunity to create more adaptable and sustainable workplaces. And that’s good for society, the economy and the working world as a whole.