Inflexible UK employers see working mothers lose £1.3 trillion in earnings annually

10 January 2018 4 min. read
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Britain’s working mothers are presently losing out on £1.3 trillion in earnings as a result of inflexible business culture. More than half the mothers in the UK responding to a recent survey revealed that they had left or changed jobs due to family commitments – with the majority of these jobs no longer putting their educational background to use, suggesting a huge waste of talent on top of the loss of income.

A number of consulting industry studies have outlined the major business benefits of accommodating the needs of parents within their workforce. One example, of paid family leave, was shown to improve the attractiveness of a firm to prospective employees, with a Deloitte study highlighting that paid family leave was a factor in the choice of employer for 77% of workers. Employees offered paid family leave were also found to have higher morale, being more engaged and productive.

However, according to a new study, millions of highly skilled British working mothers are currently being forced to accept jobs way below their qualifications and training – and earn far less than men over the course of their working lives – due to the inflexibility of recruiters over family matters. The Feel survey asked nearly 1,800 mothers what their ideal working scenario would be. As the UK continues to struggle with stagnant labour productivity, which continues to inhibit growth of the British economy, analysis of responses, along with Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures, show that a record number of mothers are returning to the workplace after having children, but are having to take on roles considerably below their potential.

Inflexible UK employers see working mothers lose £1.3 trillion in earnings annually

Three quarters of the mothers surveyed confirmed that they were currently working. However, 54% had left or changed jobs because of family commitments – often wasting their previous educational achievements as a result. 75% of the women surveyed had been to university, and around one third of these said a degree qualification had in no way applied to the job they obtained since becoming mothers. Further analysis of the statistics, carried out by London-based recruitment consulting firm Feel, shows that British business is allowing trillions of pounds of value in female talent and expertise to go to waste.

75% said they would like to find a job that utilised their degree qualification if it offered some kind of flexibility, reflecting how keen the respondents were to use their talents in the workplace. However, as many as 64% of those currently looking for jobs said they were willing to trade flexibility for a job that used their academic or professional experience.

The survey also asked working mothers to specify career changes they had made since having children, with some alarming responses. Answers included: stepping down from leadership positions; taking menial jobs just to get the flexibility; and taking redundancy or large chunks of time out of the workforce because employers dismissed requests for flexibility. A number of respondents said that they had side-stepped successful corporate careers just to go self-employed or freelance, while some exited the workforce all together.

Feel’s founder, Jane Johnson, believes highly qualified mothers in the UK, who are willing and able to work, are increasingly being let down, while businesses are missing out on a huge untapped resource of female talent, thanks to a lack of creativity and understanding about flexible working arrangements.

“The answers given in our survey showed some really positive examples where flexible working is truly working. It should not be beyond us in 2018 to think creatively and get these highly-qualified, talented people back into the workforce and capturing their value for the UK economy,” said Johnson, adding, “I cannot think of any other scenario where a business would accept this degree of wastage.  We have to see more businesses in 2018 rising to the challenge.”

Recently, four members of the professional services industry were listed in the Top 30 Employers for Working Families ranking, with reference to working flexibility. The UK list, compiled annually by the Working Families group, commended Deloitte, EY, Oliver Wyman and financial services firm UBS AG for their flexibility to accommodate employees with families.