Opportunity Now’s Project 28-40 surveyed 23,000 women between the ages of 28 and 40 and 2,000 men. The charity set out to discover why women lose ground to men in their careers after the age of 28.
The report, released today, said it is a “reality check” for employers and urged them to look at job design, technology, agile teams, and defeating the flexible working stigma. “Create a truly agile organisation, with women and men able to work in a way that makes them productive and engaged,” it said. “Allow for non-linear careers – your top talent will have times in their lives they need to take a step back.”
Women are still more than twice as likely to be working flexibly compared with their male colleagues, but flexible working is increasing among men too. The majority of both men (69%) and women (74%) surveyed agreed that flexible working has enabled them to achieve the work-life balance they want. It is not only used by parents; one in ten female respondents without children use some form of flexible working.
However, the report said negative perceptions and poor management of flexible working, as well as experiences of bullying and harassment, are some of the cultural barriers to women advancing. While flexible working helps with work-life balance, it is often stigmatised and means those working flexibly cannot progress.
Two thirds of women agreed that in their organisation flexible working still means working long hours. Flexible workers will often work longer than their contracted hours to display commitment and get the job done, despite being seen as less committed. Women are disproportionately affected by this.
Only 40% of respondents said their organisation values flexible working as a way of working efficiently.
Despite the perceived stigma and the potential to limit their careers, women still value flexible working. Women directors are more likely to work flexibly (40%) than women from other levels and are more likely to say it has enabled them to achieve a satisfactory work-life balance (35% compared to 29% for junior/mid-level). These findings suggest senior women have more autonomy once they are in senior roles, and agile working has enabled them to ‘have the best of both worlds’.
Gaenor Bagley, head of people at PwC and a member of the Opportunity Now advisory board, said: “Our research shows that the workplace isn’t working for women. Too often there is a disconnect between organisations’ policies and the actual experience of women at work. For example, despite the perception that flexible working helps women, it could actually be holding them back in many cases. While the decision to go part-time is often made for short-term reasons, it seems to have a wider, long-term negative impact.”
The report also urged businesses to set targets for the number of women they would like to see at each level of the business; deal with bullying and prioritise the development of managers.
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