22 November 2023

Making Flexible Work the Default

22nd November 2023 is Equal Pay Day: this is the day when, because of the gender pay gap, women overall in the UK stop being paid compared to men. This means, on average, working women take home £574 less than men each month (£6888 p/a). This means:

  • At the current rate of change, the gender pay gap won't close until 2051—that's 28 years from now
  • Women aged 40 and older (those born before 1983) won't see the gender pay gap close before they reach State Pension age 

This year, to mark Equal Pay Day, the Fawcett Society is releasing new data and a report which shows that making flexible work the default in high-quality, high-paid jobs is essential if we are to see the gender pay gap close more quickly. Our data shows that women are accessing flexible work associated with lower-paid, lower-quality work e.g. part-time, insecure work and zero-hours contracts, in order to balance their caring responsibilities, and that this contributes to the UK's pernicious gender pay gap. 

Our evidence shows that:

  • 40% of women who aren't currently working said that access to flexible work would mean they could take on more paid work (32% of men who aren't working and 37% of people overall said the same)
  • Women were significantly more likely to report working part-time (27%) compared to men (14%)
  • Men were more likely to report having access to more desirable forms of flexible work—for example working term time only (outside of an education setting) (21%), working as part of a job share (18%), working a number of set hours flexibly across the year (15%) or working to commissioned outcomes (10%).
  • 77% of women agreed that they would be more likely to apply for a job that advertises flexible working options.

Read the full Equal Pay Day 2023 briefing: Making Flexible Work the Default

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, said:

The Chancellor is delivering the Autumn Statement today, but can he really build a thriving economy without closing the gender pay gap? The fact is, if we want a thriving economy, the gender pay gap must close, and to achieve this, our government must make flexible work the default. 

We see time and time again that women feel they have no choice but to accept lower-paid, lower-quality work in exchange for flexibility, and this isn't fair. A need for flexible working arrangements, whether it be due to caring responsibilities, disability, or simply a desire to rebalance work and life, should not mean the end of career progression. Women are being kept in lower-quality jobs due to old-fashioned workplace norms. 

Women must be allowed to progress with the flexible working arrangements they require, and men must step up and take on their fair share of caring responsibilities and household tasks. Flexible work must be the norm for both men and women at work.

A day-one right to request flexible working is simply not enough to create the deep cultural change that is needed. Right now, accessing flexible work is a matter of negotiation with your employer. Our report clearly shows that this is a process that favours men and bakes in existing inequality. Women shouldn't be penalised or disadvantaged because they need to work flexibly and they certainly shouldn't be locked out of roles they are qualified and keen to do. Too many women take on less-desirable and less well-paid roles so they can access flexibility and this contributes to the gender pay gap. Flexible work must be made the default for everyone. Employees need a better understanding of the different forms of flexible work open to them across all career paths and employers need to embrace the benefits this will bring to their organisation.

Harriet Harman, Chair of the Fawcett Society, said:

The gender pay gap is closing far too slowly. At the current rate of change, women over 40 will suffer the pay gap until they retire. This is unfair and unjust, and it hurts everyone. A thriving economy relies on the full participation of women, and we are currently locking women out of work they are qualified for and capable of doing. 

For too long, women have put up with less fair and less equal working arrangements in exchange for flexibility. We need urgent action to ensure women are allowed to work to their full level of skills and experience. making flexibility the norm will make it easier for women to get the flexibility they need, and also normalise men taking on their fair share of caring responsibilities. We cannot afford to wait.

The Gender Pay Gap in the UK: Explained 

The gender pay gap is the difference between the hourly pay of women and men, as a proportion of men's pay. This year, Government data has indicated a mean gender pay gap of 10.7% for full-time workers, which means Equal Pay Day is on 22nd November 2023. 

Read our gender pay gap explainer to learn more about:

  • How the gender pay gap differs from pay discrimination
  • How the gender pay gap has changed over time
  • What causes the gender pay gap
  • Our calls to action to close the gender pay gap for good

Read The Gender Pay Gap in the UK: Explained

Together, we can close the gender pay gap for good.

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