Why flexible working drives creativity

With research showing that pregnant and new mothers face more discrimination at work than they did a decade ago, should business do more to embrace new ways of working?

Returning to work after maternity leave can be challenging for many new mums; regaining the art of holding an adult conversation, for example, for longer than the five minutes it takes the Tesco driver to deliver shopping. Or learning to think above and beyond how many nappies you’ve changed that day. However, the real challenge lies in employer attitudes and the need for a mass culture shift.

I’m one of the lucky mums who works for a marketing agency that values the important contribution we make in terms of skills, experience, commitment and loyalty. I’ve been with the business for 10 years, minus two years of maternity leave. My colleagues currently share 23 babies of various ages between them, which constitutes almost half of the company.

Is the business suffering as a result? Hardly! Revenues are increasing year on year, and we’re repeatedly winning industry awards for our work. So why don’t more employers embrace working parents?

The cost of discrimination

Research published late last year by the department for business, innovation and skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed that pregnant women and mothers now face more discrimination at work than they did a decade ago.

The EHRC estimates that 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs across Britain every year, and since 2005 that number has nearly doubled, yet only 1% of these lodge a complaint at an employment tribunal. This is something that the likes of top blogger Mother Pukka is trying to change through her "Flex appeal" campaign.

The cost of this attitude to families and businesses is significant. British women forced out of their jobs – either by being dismissed, treated so poorly they had to leave, or made compulsorily redundant – could lose in total as much as £113m a year, according to the report. Meanwhile, the costs of hiring and training new staff, redundancy payouts and lost productivity after women were pushed out of jobs amounted to £280m a year.

With employers seemingly happy to blow millions on getting rid of new mums, you’d think they were actually a liability. Working mums are often said to be stressed and distracted – juggling everything but not quite managing to make it work. However, a recent Ernst & Young report found that women in flexible work were the most productive members of the workforce, stating: "In an average year, these women effectively deliver an extra week-and-a-half of productive work, simply by using their time more wisely."

Building an inclusive workforce

Studies like this show that it makes economic sense to create a working environment where women feel comfortable taking maternity leave and are encouraged to return to work afterwards rather than the current trend of pushing them out of the workforce.

Beyond productivity, working mums are, after all, real people and as such are a key consumer group that totalled almost 8 million people in the UK in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics. What’s more, research by Yankelovich and Greenfield Online shows that mums decide on 85% of all consumer purchases on average, ranging from food and pharmaceuticals (93%), holidays (92%), homes (91%), bank accounts (89%) and healthcare (80%) to computers (66%) and new cars (65%). This makes mums particularly valuable in marketing positions, as they are able to bring their personal experience to bear as the key decision-maker when promoting products.

In fact, during a recent interview with Bloomberg TV, Interpublic Group chief executive Michael Roth said this was a key reason for his business deciding to employ more women. When it comes to attracting mums to work for you, the Working Mums Annual Survey 2016 revealed that the best ways to create a family friendly company were flexibility in terms of hours, home working and offering part-time roles.

But flexibility won’t just help attract working mums. New research shows that it’s also vital to attracting and retaining millennial talent in general. The report from Digital Mums reveals that 73% of millennial employees would be more loyal to a business if they could work flexibly, which also features highly on the wish list of working mums.

So come on employers. Offer greater flexibility to your workforce and you’ll not only attract millennial talent, but also working mums – and benefit from the boost in productivity and marketing intelligence they bring.

Helen Bryce is senior staffing manager within the Real People staffing team at Sense

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