The insurer Zurich has MPs backing its calls on the government to legislate that larger employers make all vacancies available on either a part-time, job-share and flexible basis.

The global firm, which has 55,000 employees, says since almost three years since it launched its flexible working initiative, it increased its female hires

To achieve this, it advertised all new vacancies as  either potential part-time, job share or full-time opportunity – alongside flexible working.

This was coupled with the use of gender-neutral language in every job advertisement.

Support from MPs

Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP and Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee added: “Over the course of the last two years, we have seen an increase in people wanting to work more flexibly, and be able to adapt their work patterns around a variety of other responsibilities. I am pleased to see this initiative from Zurich, recognising the impact that the way you advertise roles can have on the number and diversity of applicants.”

Between January and December last year (2021), a quarter of the women Zurich hired were appointed on a part time basis – up from ten percent two years before.

Since the pandemic, Zurich’s data found more women had asked for flexible or part-time working as many struggled to balance caring and home-schooling responsibilities with work.

This, Zurich says, is ten times higher than male counterparts who had been hired on a part-time basis; this has remained consistent at just 2 percent.

16 million people need to work flexibly

But, despite vacancies across the UK labour market rising to their highest levels since records began, research shows that the majority (74%) of job advertisements still fail to offer any flexible working options.  This comes as an estimated 16 million are planning on leaving their roles within the next six months – with the majority of people moving in search of a better work life balance.

To develop its flexible working initiative, Zurich joined forces with the Behavioural Insights Team to identify issues that were blocking career progression for women.  The research highlighted a lack of applications from women for senior roles. Many of these roles have not previously been available on a part-time or flexible basis and female employees reported that this lack of apparent flexibility was making them less likely to apply.

Commenting on the data, Steve Collinson, HR Director at Zurich UK said: “Our approach is about removing barriers for those who need flexibility.  We are urging the Government to make businesses like ours advertise all roles as being available on a more flexible basis wherever they can.”

He also said that the initiative means they are able to access a pool of talent that may not previously have been available. Adding: “This is a priority for us in the current climate but also benefits working parents, carers, those with portfolio careers or other interests they want to pursue.  As the labour market tightens, employers need to rethink their approach to attracting and retaining talent.  Workers want a new deal and are no longer prepared to work in outdated and rigid patterns.”

Minister for Employment Mims Davies MP said:“Flexible working and hybrid working opens up more employment inclusiveness and progression opportunities to a wider range of talent, and this Government is committed to ensuring workers can balance their work-life commitments.”

She added:  “Our brilliant DWP Work Coaches are already matching jobseekers to suitable jobs that fit around existing commitments or health issues, including supporting women going through the menopause through our 50Plus Choices programme.”