There are three times as many Scottish women in part-time work compared with men and the gulf has grown over the past year, official figures show.
The situation has been branded “shocking”, with a warning of a “talent bottleneck” in Scotland’s labour market that will damage the economy.
Business leaders insist that part-time work is a positive feature of the jobs market, but acknowledge the need for more focus on workers’ performance instead of “hours worked” when assessing pay and promotion. There is also a stark warning from campaigners that government plans to double the level of free childcare in Scotland do not go far enough and a “wrap-around” system is instead needed to bring about real change.
The number of women doing part-time jobs across Scotland has jumped to 540,000 in the year to April, up 12,000 on the past year.
At the same time, the number of part-time male workers has come down.
This comes despite years of high-profile government initiatives to address the imbalance in Scotland’s workforce, traditionally a result of women taking responsibility for childcare. There has also been a fall in full-time women workers by 4,000, while the number of males in full-time jobs is up by 6,000.
Although part-time working could contribute to helping more women secure top roles, the Scottish Government minister for business, fair work and skills, Jamie Hepburn, said there was a “talent bottleneck” for female workers at the upper echelons of industry.
Mr Hepburn said: “We are encouraging employers to join us in considering what positive actions can be taken to increase the number of high quality flexible jobs available. We are also encouraging employers to take real action to improve workplace practices that encourage flexible workplace practices and increase the number of women that progress to senior, decision-making levels, whether in part time or full-time jobs.”
Most part-time workers in Scotland indicate they do such roles because they don’t want a full-time job, but it is widely accepted that many women have little choice because they take on the bulk of childcare responsibilities.
Anna Ritchie Allan, executive director of campaign group Close the Gap, said part-time work was seen as “incompatible” with management and senior jobs.
She said: “Part-time work tends to be found in low-paid, undervalued jobs such as admin, retail and care, which contributes to women’s higher levels of poverty and increased job insecurity.”
Ministers are to double the level of state childcare in Scotland to 1,140 hours by the end of the decade. This will effectively mean 30 hours a week during school-term time, mirroring the primary school week and is aimed at allowing a generation of Scottish mothers to return to the workplace.
But Ms Ritchie Allan argues it doesn’t go far enough. She said: “It doesn’t enable women to work full time. Women need wrap-around childcare if they are to participate in the labour market on an equal basis with men.”
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said part-time working was a “positive feature” of the employment market for those who needed it. But she warned it must not be allowed to reinforce the gender pay gap that had been “resistant to change”.
She added: “More employers should adapt to focus on outcomes, rather than hours worked, when evaluating employee performance and pay.”
Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland, said: “That so many women are having to accept part-time work is obviously a concern and reinforces the importance of offering flexible working options.”
Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “These are shocking figures.”
WHAT THE EMPLOYERS CAN DO TO BRING IN CHANGE:
• OUTCOMES: More employers should adapt to focus on outcomes, rather than hours worked, when evaluating the performance and pay of their workers. This would enhance opportunities for women to progress up the career ladder.
• FLEXIBILITY: Job sharing and flexible working arrangements for senior roles should become the norm at major firms, addressing the “talent bottleneck”.
• HOME WORKING: Many roles in the modern, digital economy can be effective without a strictly defined schedule, or even an office.
• CULTURE: Roles should be advertised as “flexible” in the first instance, creating a culture where employees are made to feel confident about asking for flexibility when it means they can better deal with caring or other important responsibilities.
• LEAVE: Paid family leave should be “equalised” for parents. Modern families come in all shapes and sizes and they should be helped to find the best care options to suit their specific needs.
• CHILDCARE: A “wrap-around” system of universal childcare would have a “transformational” effect in allowing a generation of mothers to return to work.