Millions of highly skilled British working mothers are forced to accept jobs way below their qualifications and training – and therefore earn far less than men over the course of their working lives – due to the inflexibility of recruiters, according to an exclusive new survey.
As the UK gets back to work after the Christmas break and the country continues to grapple with stagnant labour productivity, the survey shows 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.
The majority of mothers (75 per cent) surveyed said they were currently working, but more than half (54 per cent) had left or changed jobs because of family commitments.
75 per cent of the women surveyed had been to university, but almost a third said a degree qualification had played no part in them getting the job they do now.
And 64 per cent 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, carried out by Feel, a London-based recruitment consultancy, shows how British business is allowing trillions of pounds of value in female talent and expertise to go uncaptured.
According to Feel’s founder, Jane Johnson, highly qualified mothers in the UK, who are willing and able to work, are increasingly being let down, because of a lack of creativity and understanding about how flexible arrangements could tap into this vast pool of underutilised female talent. 75 per cent said they would like to find a job that utilised their degree qualification if it offered some kind of flexibility.
Data from the Office of National Statistics show that the earning potential of women tracks that of their male counterparts when they enter the workforce, but starts to diverge between the age of 25 and 30.
According to the ONS, the pay gap gets wider from the age of 30 and never recovers as female workers trade away their earning potential for jobs that fit around a family. Between the age of 30-65, a woman is £5-10k worse off each year than her similarly qualified male colleagues – in median salary before tax – and this continues until retirement.
It means that, at current rates of pay, working mothers in the UK are being hit by as much as £1.3 trillion in lost earnings.
“There are 4.9 million working mothers in the UK,” says Jane Johnson, “and there is an opportunity worth almost £1.3 trillion for the UK economy that is being wasted. But this can only be reversed if businesses explore more flexible ways of working and get these highly qualified, talented women back into the workforce and into jobs at their full potential where they earn salaries to match.”
“There is a huge amount of uncaptured value, but we find many businesses simply aren’t aware of just how flexible parents can be. Flexibility doesn’t just have to mean three days a week, and not being around at critical points for the business.”
The Feel survey asked nearly 1,800 mothers what their ideal working scenario would be and the answers showed just how creative some employers are being.
The flexible and more creative solutions included: full-time hours which included some days working from home; flexible working-day start or end times to fit around the school day; four days’ working hours spread over five days to provide office cover every day; or nine day fortnights which still ensured business-cover over core hours.
“The answers given in our survey showed some really positive examples where flexible working is truly working,” said Johnson.
But the survey also asked about the career changes working mothers had made since having children – “the big issue”, according to Johnson.
Answers included: stepping down from leadership positions; taking menial jobs just to get the flexibility; taking redundancy or large chunks of time out of the workforce because employers dismissed requests for flexibility; and side-stepping successful corporate careers – to go self-employed, freelance or even not work at all.
“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.
“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.”
Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.