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Part-Time Politics

24/11/2015 11:13 GMT | Updated 23/11/2016 10:12 GMT

It's been over a year since flexible working was extended to all employees. The hope at the time was that this might contribute to the normalisation of flexible working and take it out of the parent [read mother] ghetto. Has that proved to be the case?

Well, yes and no. There is no doubt that many organisations are forging ahead with flexible working, particularly remote working, which is driven in large part by technological advances. This is something which has contributed to more women working full time after having children, although latest figures show it is still overwhelmingly women who choose to work part time.

The number of dads working part time is still small - it has remained at just under four per cent in the Workingmums.co.uk's annual survey for the last three years. Moreover, the number of part-time women is the main factor contributing to the gender pay gap, according to the ONS. The gap is falling for full timers - down to 9.4%, but when part timers are added in it is 19.2%, a figure which has not shown much movement in the last four years.

So should we be doing more to encourage mums to work full time or dads to work part time? Or maybe a little of both?

With the advent of Shared Parental Leave many employers are looking at what they offer dads, who consistently say that they would like to have a better work life balance, but face a lot of peer pressure as well as financial arguments to work long hours.

It can be hard for dads to be one of the first to ask for flexible working, particularly anything that is less than full-time hours.

Adrian Dyer not only negotiated four months of additional paternity leave but a four and a half day week at his job as a trading manager for a shipping company. He can also come in an hour late one day a week and leave an hour late. He admits he was apprehensive about asking for APL and the first response was that he would jeopardise his career progression. Ideally, he would have liked to work fewer than four and a half days - women in his firm do, but have seen their careers hit as a result - but in his firm he is the only dad to take APL or Shared Parental Leave and to request less than full-time hours.

"Some people are scared to ask for flexible working," he says. "They don't want to be seen to be taking advantage. There is a big culture of presenteeism, but I don't want to be on my deathbed regretting that I didn't spend more time with my family."

It will only get easier when more dads feel confident to ask for reduced hours.

There are, of course, all kinds of financial reasons why women are more likely to work part time than men. The gender pay gap is clearly not just about part time versus full time work because there is still a sizeable gap for full timers even if the number of women who are the main earners in their families is rising.

Gender pay issues are multifaceted. Are certain sectors or types of jobs lower paid just because women do them more? Are women more likely to end up in lower paid sectors because they are more flexible and because they are more likely to take on or take the lead in caring responsibilities? Do women just not negotiate well enough because they have less of a sense of self worth and if so, where does this lower sense of self worth come from?

These kind of entrenched problems will not change overnight.

In Man Made: Why So Few Women Are in Positions of Power, gender expert Eva Tutchell and former TUC President John Edmonds outline four ways to bring greater equality by the next generation. They include enforcing equal pay and sex discrimination legislation rather than relying on individual women to take cases to tribunal and put their reputation on the line, pay transparency and the normalisation of career breaks as people's working lives become longer and the need to reskill or upskill becomes more pressing.

Edmonds asked the audience at Workingmums.co.uk's recent Top Employer Awards: "Can a new generation of women put companies and governments under the same pressure that was last mobilised around 40 years ago? If we take no effective action we can start drafting apologies to our granddaughters and their daughters. Those women will have to pay the price of today's company and political leadership and for our own weakness in not demanding the reforms that deep down we all know are necessary."