A flagship drive to get more women in Scotland back into the workplace through a shift towards more family friendly hours has not worked, it has emerged.
New research shows the legal right to request flexible working is failing to create more adaptable jobs for women north of the Border.
Gender pay group Close the Gap, which published the report, is now calling for widespread “cultural change” to address the issue.
The right to request flexible working was extended to all employees in 2014, but today’s study shows no early evidence that it has resulted in the “normalisation” of flexible working, as was envisaged.
Anna Ritchie Allan, executive director at Close the Gap, said: “Flexible working is a critical factor in enabling women to balance work with caring, supporting women to progress into senior roles, and it’s also a necessary step in closing the gender pay gap.
“There is clear and mounting global evidence that flexible working is good for business and many employers are already reaping the benefits that flexibility can bring. Companies that don’t provide flexibility are missing out on female talent as many women are working below their skill level in the only part-time work that’s available.
“We need a step change in workplace culture so that flexible working becomes the norm, with flexible and quality part-time jobs available at all levels.”
The report is entitled Flexible Working for All? The impact of the right to request regulations in Scotland.
The statutory right to request to work flexibly was extended to cover all employees in 2014, rather than only those with children under the age of 17. It found there was no evidence of an increase in formal flexible working since the extension of the regulations to all employees in 2014.
Only 12 per cent of jobs paying more than £20,000 are advertised as having flexible working options. This particularly affects women returning to work after taking time out to care. There has been a 29 per cent reduction in the use of term-time working and a 35 per cent reduction in job-sharing, which are both overwhelmingly done by women.
There have been increases in home working and flexi-time by 23 per cent and 3 per cent respectively, although these are used equally by men and women.
Working mothers are still six times more likely to work part time than male parents, with most part-time work found in lower-paid jobs and sectors.
Close the Gap has called on employers to consider a range of recommendations in the report, including an assessment of flexible working across their business to identify where “rigid” working hours may be a barrier to women’s progression.
All jobs should be advertised as being considered for flexible working, while managers should also be encouraged to be ready to listen and come up with “creative solutions” to flexible working requests.
The research also reaffirms existing evidence on the limitations of the existing law on flexible working and its impact on women’s workplace equality.
This new research has emerged at a critical time as the UK Government this week announced plans to consult on changes to the law that would improve transparency around employer policies on flexible working and introduce a requirement for employers to consider advertising all jobs as flexible.