Panellists taking part in the Work and Family Show’s main debate on Friday were divided on the need for quotas. However, all agreed flexible working makes business sense and should be adopted more widely.
John Timpson, chief executive of shoe repair business Timpson said quotas were not the answer: “No amount of quotas will do what you want. The answer is to get the people leading a business to understand that looking for the best people means looking at everybody and making a flexible workplace so everybody has a chance of succeeding.”
He added: “Make sure their work fits into their lives rather than their lives fit into their work. It’s part of being a good employer.”
Jenny Willott, minister for employment relations and consumer affairs, said there are many areas in which flexible working is likely to increase. She pointed to the ageing population as a key area of flexible working growth.
“A lot of older people don’t want to be working full-time one day and then not at all the next. We [will] see a lot more people reducing the hours they work until they stop entirely – phasing out of the workforce rather than going out with a bang,” she said.
Economist Vicky Pryce argued that there are very few possibilities for proper part-time and flexible work in senior roles. “The public sector does reasonably well but the private sector is moving very slowly in that direction,” she claimed.
Pryce said she felt the issue of the number of women represented at board level is “a red herring” and that promoting women through all levels of business is important. “What we have seen happen is that lots of companies have part time work and flexibility at the lower levels but when you rise to higher levels it isn’t there. It is important for people lower down to have role models and see that if they stay it will be possible to have flexible working and job sharing.”
The panel also said it was important to remember that flexible working is more than part-time. “We need to be more imaginative about what we mean by flexible working,” said Timpson.
Willott said proposals for shared parental leave, due to come in in 2015, should help equalise treatment of men and women in the workplace. She answered criticism from delegates who said the opportunity to share leave after the birth of a child would not be widely used. “Just because it’s not going to have a dramatic change overnight doesn’t mean it’s not important to do it,” she said. “Cultural change is often very slow.”