Address flexible working to tackle gender pay gaps

Flexible working is a significant issue for organisations seeking to tackle their pay gaps, and some have been more progressive than others

The deadline has now passed for organisations with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gaps. Reporting is a bit of a blunt tool. But I support its purpose, which is to force organisations to take the progression of women in the workplace seriously.

In many businesses we’ve seen the same story about why there’s a gap: fewer women in leadership positions due to lack of flexible working opportunities at the top and the career penalty of taking time out to have children. We’ve also seen the impact of fewer women in certain high-productivity professions, such as STEM, and the impact of overrepresentation of women in lower-paid part-time occupations.

What a waste for business, the economy and the women themselves. Just look at McKinsey research that shows bridging the gender pay gap in Britain could create an extra £150 billion in GDP, and could add 840,000 women to the economy. McKinsey also finds that gender-diverse executive teams outperform others by 15%. And increasingly men are demanding flexibility; 81% of men want this, but often feel held back by cultural perceptions.

In the schools sector we face a challenge; many school groups have reported very large gender pay gaps. We are proud that United Learning’s compares favourably with the sector, but we still have a gap and work to do to address it. Schools play a vital role in preparing young people for work and it is crucial that we are strong role models for gender diversity.

There is much debate now on the role of flexible working in the sector to address this, with a high-profile Department for Education (DfE) campaign launched a few months ago.

Flexible working is a significant issue for many organisations seeking to address their gender pay gap, and some have been much more progressive than others. As a term-time-only worker I am proud to be a senior flexible worker. But I find people are still usually surprised that I’ve managed to negotiate that.

There is no question that creating a flexible working culture in schools is tough; children need a teacher in the classroom at certain times of the day. But the business case is crystal clear. Almost three out of four teachers are female and we face a huge problem retaining female teachers in their 30s. We’re in the middle of the biggest teacher supply crisis of a generation. Applications for teacher training have plunged by nearly 20% at a time of rising pupil numbers.

Add to this the rising number of Millennials teaching. Timewise data tells us that 92% of 18- to 34-year-olds want to work flexibly. Holding on to older, experienced teachers will also be crucial, and studies show that enabling part-time working allows teachers to work into later life.

Progressive schools understand this and find ways to manage the challenges flexible working brings. My six-year-old son is taught by two job-share teachers; he is receiving a very good education and I’ve not heard a single parent complain. I know highly successful headteachers who have worked a four-day week or job shared and delivered outstanding results. There are also many examples of less formal flexible working, such as staff occasionally working from home, and late starts or early finishes for special occasions.

Recent DfE research demonstrates that schools that advertise flexibly see applications increase. And yet very few teaching vacancies are advertised as such.

These issues are applicable to all of us working in HR, across every sector, and we need to be at the forefront of pioneering cultural change if we’re to make an impact. I want my son to enter a world of work where his gender has no bearing. It is time for our profession to step up and play a vital role in making gender inequality a thing of the past.

Mandy Coalter is director of people at United Learning. She ranks 31st on HR magazine’s HR Most Influential Practitioners 2017 list