In a conclusion that will surprise approximately zero working mothers, a new study has found that flexibility in the workplace is key to helping women stay in the labor force and maintain their personal career paths after childbirth. In fact, it’s the most significant way to prevent women from dropping out of the workforce after having their first child.
Researchers at the University of Kent examined five years of findings (2009-2014) from Understanding Society, a large household survey in the U.K. with data on flexible work arrangements.
They found that women who were able to use flextime were only half as likely to reduce their hours after the birth of their child. While more than half of the women in the study sample reduced their working hours after the birth of their child, less than a quarter of women who were able to use flextime reduced their hours.
The study was led by Dr. Heejung Chung, of the University’s School of Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research, and its findings may even provide a solution for narrowing the gender pay gap in the U.K., say the authors. “Flexible working may help alleviate some of the negative consequences of the motherhood penalty, by allowing mothers to remain in human-capital-intensive jobs, which can help diminish the gender wage gap,” they write.
To summarize: Flexible work policies keep women in the workforce and may help narrow the pay gap. Oh, and other studies have shown that flexible workers achieve more, are sick less often, work longer hours and are happier in their work.
Sure, the virtues of flexible work seem like a no-brainer to any working mom who has struggled to get to daycare by 5 p.m. sharp, or to take care of a sick child at home, but clearly employers aren’t getting the message. While many companies tout their flexible work benefits, such as flexible scheduling, telecommuting or reduced hours, they usually only offer some of the perks to some of their employees. A 2014 study of 545 U.S. employers, for example, found that only 20 percent of companies offered a variety of flexible options to most of their workers. (As a point of comparison, all of the 2016 Working Mother 100 Best Companies offer telecommuting and flextime, and 91% of them offer compressed work schedules.)
So the next time you hear an employer lament he just can’t keep talented employees on board, send him this study and tell him if you don't flex, you're behind the times.