about flexible working?

(57 Posts)
JessieMcJessie Wed 10-Jun-15 07:37:21

Disclaimer: I do not work in the UK and so UK employment law does not apply and there are no local laws on this. I do however work for an international company.

I have just been involved in a discussion where one boss was trying to encourage other bosses to agree to requests for flexible working arrangements made by women in their teams who had small children.

He was doing well encouraging this but the entire discussion was all about "women" and "mothers". I suggested to the meeting that if we are going to have such a policy it should not be confined to female employees. I was told afterwards that this was just muddying the water and we'd have more trouble getting it through for women if we scared colleagues into thinking that any parent could apply. Basically the pro-flexibility boss said "one step at a time". My view is that if you start out with it being a women only policy then it will always be seen as one and it should not be.

Was I being unreasonable?

eurochick Wed 10-Jun-15 07:39:20

Not at all. How sexist.

clmustard Wed 10-Jun-15 07:42:55

ywnbu I think in the uk it used to be termed "primary carers" but that opens it up even more as would apply to carers of elderly or disabled relatives as well (as it should)

FriendlyLadybird Wed 10-Jun-15 07:58:54

You were not being unreasonable BUT your colleague was being much more practical and clearly knows how to operate in a corporate environment.

Oddly enough, I'm writing about this quite a lot at the moment. The way to achieve cultural change is not through big sweeping policy announcements: it's through small, low-risk experiments. Introduce a couple of job shares, work out how to do it, let other managers see that the sky has not fallen in ... then it becomes accepted, even a norm.

If job shares don't actually work in your company, though, you haven't really lost much. You can quietly have a go at part time working instead. And then when that works, you can encourage people to do more of it. See what I mean?

Also, yes, technically it is sexist. But the colleague who is trying to introduce these sorts of measures is probably doing it from the point of view of trying to keep more women in the workplace and trying to make it easier for them to be promoted to leadership positions. On occasion, and as a starting point, I don't see what's wrong with a little practical positive discrimination. Companies regularly lose large numbers of women when they start families. The numbers of people of both sexes who suddenly develop caring responsibilities is smaller, and probably easier to find solutions to on a case-by-case basis.

One step at a time is the way to go.

clmustard Wed 10-Jun-15 08:09:54

if they introduced a policy like this could they not be at risk of a discrimination suit?

OnIlkleyMoorBahTwat Wed 10-Jun-15 08:45:32

Surely it should be available to everyone or nobody, not just mothers/parents of small children.

Or are they assuming that no-one else has any life or responsibilities outside work and are happy to pick up the slack for those allowed to work flexibly?

What if someone who is not a parent wants to come in early to avoid traffic congestion for example?

confusedandemployed Wed 10-Jun-15 08:47:19

Agree with FriendlyLadybird.

OnIlkleyMoorBahTwat Wed 10-Jun-15 08:47:47

Or what if one of the mothers has a SAHP so, using your company's logic, doesn't 'need' to work flexibly? Would she still be allowed to do so?

Lonecatwithkitten Wed 10-Jun-15 09:00:12

Whilst it is sexist your colleague is right about small steps. Business strategy research has shown that companies are more likely to adopt policy if it is done in small steps otherwise you get resistors who undermine the policy and cause it to fail. There are many, many papers of good quality papers in the Harvard Business Journal on this.
In the UK flexible working was a gradual policy change from none to what we have now.

Lonecatwithkitten Wed 10-Jun-15 09:01:20

Papers of good quality research is what I meant to write.

LovelyBranches Wed 10-Jun-15 09:03:04

Actually I think it's useful to concentrate on mothers. I understand that there are many men out there who are active, loving parents who take care of their children. That said, it's women who give birth, women who are more likely to be the primary caregiver and women who are more likely to do the donkey work of parenting. It is more useful for a mother to have good, strong working policies that she actually uses than give a less flexible working pattern to all, that in truth only a very very small minority of men will benefit from.

InstitutionCode Wed 10-Jun-15 09:09:57

I think your colleagues are right.

It was introduced very gradually in UK, primarily for the care of children initially and almost exclusively used by women. It would never have been introduced here if it had been for everyone at the outset - baby steps.

FWIW, I think there's still a long way to go here. DH has just had an application declined for "business" reasons. He covered all their objections and the only real problem the company have with it is what happens if everyone wants to do it, but they've met the criteria.

Trills Wed 10-Jun-15 09:12:09

If a job can reasonably be done under "flexible hours" rather than "you must be in exactly 9-5 Monday-Friday" then it can be done flexibly by whoever does that job.

The outside-work situation of the person doing the job has no impact on whether the job is suitable for flexible hours or not.

RiverTam Wed 10-Jun-15 09:17:44

I think, if it's not practical to do this as a sweeping change for all, then it should be offered firstly to parents, not just mothers.

JessieMcJessie Wed 10-Jun-15 09:21:13

I take the point about how to sell policies in a corporate environment. However I would add that our head office is in the UK and so is bound by UK law, so this is not a new idea for the company overall.

By the way I was only suggesting that it be open to all employees of both genders with childcare responsibilities, not to all employees regardless of circumstances.

LovelyBranches you say

women who are more likely to be the primary caregiver and women who are more likely to do the donkey work of parenting. It is more useful for a mother to have good, strong working policies that she actually uses than give a less flexible working pattern to all, that in truth only a very very small minority of men will benefit from.

Why should we accept the status quo of your first sentence? Is it not possible that these women are the primary caregivers because their husbands historically had no right to flexible working?

JessieMcJessie Wed 10-Jun-15 09:22:22

Cross post River Tam that's pretty much what I said, could they use the word "parents" and not "mothers" when talking about the policy.

ethelb Wed 10-Jun-15 09:23:05

Institutioncode The thing is, was the UK right to do it in that way though?

My last place of work reached its critical maximum of women with children going part time/flexitime very quickly. It meant that women who had been around when the new regulations/policy came in got part time working/flexible working and then younger women didn't have a chance of getting it approved, as the original benefactors of the scheme never stopped doing part time/flexible working.

InstitutionCode Wed 10-Jun-15 09:25:33

Yes, because it wouldn't have happened at all otherwise.

I could even argue, it should never have been expanded, for the reasons you have experienced where you work and what DH has experienced. If employers feel they can't cope with "everyone" doing it, they'll stop altogether.

LovelyBranches Wed 10-Jun-15 09:43:43

Jessie, I think that in the pursuit of equality, we women have undervalued our own worth. Equality has been keen to see the value of fathers as well as mothers (and it's right that it should be equal). However, mothers have an intrinsic value and that is being swept away or seen for less than it is.
Until we live in utopia, women are the primary care givers in the majority of households (note-not all). They are also the only gender biologically capable of birthing children.

When it comes to maternity leave I'm horrified that there are women feeling pressured into returning to work before their stitches have healed because they want to be seen as equal.

I have a great DH and I'd like his job to be a bit more flexible so that I didn't have to do ALL of the running around for nursery, but it's far more important that my role is flexible so that I can do it.

FriendlyLadybird Wed 10-Jun-15 09:49:48

My last place of work reached its critical maximum of women with children going part time/flexitime very quickly. It meant that women who had been around when the new regulations/policy came in got part time working/flexible working and then younger women didn't have a chance of getting it approved, as the original benefactors of the scheme never stopped doing part time/flexible working.

That's the problem with the Big Bang introduction of a huge policy change: the organisation can't cope. Incremental changes allow the organisation to restructure gradually in order to accommodate different ways of working.

And, Jessie: Why should we accept the status quo of your first sentence?. Because we are working in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. Women have been primary caregivers for millennia. We're not going to undo that assumption overnight.

RiverTam Wed 10-Jun-15 09:53:19

I don't agree. All to after we read about the expectation that even if working, it is for women, and their careers, colleagues and employers, to take the hit when it comes to dealing with everything to do with childcare and children - taking time off for inset days, school assemblies, medical appointments.

I do not believe that I am a more important parent than DH. I do not believe that his job should be more important than mine, or his colleagues and employers more important than mine.

EddieStobbart Wed 10-Jun-15 09:54:56

I don't agree with small steps. I know only one man who works part time. Where I work is very male dominated and the men there are very unlikely to work part time, it would be viewed as something that "women do" and a policy like this would reinforce that.

JessieMcJessie Wed 10-Jun-15 10:01:09

lovelybranches I wholeheartedly agree that for the time of a child's life where only the woman is bilogically capable of bearing/nurturing the child that women should be given more flexibility than men and their jobs and status protected by law for long enough to allow them to recover.

However you say

I have a great DH and I'd like his job to be a bit more flexible so that I didn't have to do ALL of the running around for nursery, but it's far more important that my role is flexible so that I can do it.

Unless you are breastfeeding, why is it more important for you rather than your DH to "do the running around for nursery"?

I can see that it may be more important because that division of childcare is what you and your family have chosen, but that is simply a personal choice. Another family might want to be able to choose to do it the other way. Why should a female-only flexible working policy force them to fall into the "woman as main carer" structure?

Millionprammiles Wed 10-Jun-15 10:01:26

I can see why applying a 'case by case basis' approach and individuals working flexibly 'under the radar' works for the company - they're making no commitment and can revoke privileges at any time.

In practice though it can result in perceived favouritism or unfairness which does little to promote employee loyalty or motivation (for those not favoured).

A transparent, formalised approach though risks everyone being denied flexible working.

Having worked in organisations that have adopted both approaches, whilst the former approach worked in my favour it was divisive for the team.

LovelyBranches Wed 10-Jun-15 10:04:05

Eddie, if a male inclusive policy was introduced in your workplace, how many men would actually use it? Not many in my experience. It's far better to have a workable policy aimed more at women than a watered down policy that wont achieve very much at all.

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