Last reviewed 25 October 2021

With almost 13,000 working mothers responding to a TUC and Mother Pukka survey on flexible work, it revealed that 50% had had their flexible working request rejected or only accepted in part.

While the legal “right to request” flexible working has been in place for around 20 years, the TUC argues that the survey shows the current system is broken.

Many women told the TUC they are put off asking for flexible working, with 42% saying they were worried about their employers’ negative reaction and a similar percentage stating that there was little point in asking as any request would just be turned down.

Of those women who are working flexibly, the great majority (86%) said that they had faced discrimination and disadvantage at work due to their revised work arrangements.

However, 92% of those who are currently working flexibly told the TUC they would find it difficult or impossible to do their job without it.

Flexible working includes options such as job sharing, agreed predictable hours, term-time working, flexitime and condensed hours but 42% of mothers told the TUC that they would not feel comfortable asking about such options in a job interview because they thought they would be discriminated against.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s time to make flexible working the norm as we emerge from the pandemic. It’s the best way to keep women in work and to close the gender pay gap.”

A summary of the poll findings can be found at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-10/Report.pdf.

Founder of Mother Pukka, Anna Whitehouse, said: “In December 2019, the Queen announced flexible working as a key focus for the Employment Bill. Flexible working is firmly on Whitehall’s table but, in 2021, 50% of working mums are still having their requests turned down”.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

The Government’s proposal to make flexible working requests a day-one right for employees, and their recommendation to highlight available flexible working options within job advertisements, may assist working mums to submit requests and help break the stigma that they will be treated less favourably by doing so.

However, it’s clear that work needs to be done before then to support women in the workplace.

An increasing number of organisations are starting to talk about flexible working positively and have witnessed the benefits it can bring. The pandemic forced businesses to consider new ways of working, with many shifting to remote working arrangements and reduced working hours.

Strategic employers and HR teams will continue with these approaches, as a means of contributing towards long-term retention, increased motivation and productivity, and overall business growth.