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Why reform is needed with temporary positions to close the gender pay gap

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

Britain’s rapidly growing temporary workforce is on course to break records.

By 2020, we can expect numbers of agency workers to reach 1 million, a figure we’re not so far away from today at 865,000. Now, new research from the Resolution Foundation has revealed women accounted for 85% of the growth in temporary agency workers in the last five years.

At a glance, this figure may seem promising: temporary positions do, after all, provide an opportunity for, among other, new mothers to enjoy a phased return back to the working world. If working mothers are able to take advantage of the increased demand for part-time or temporary staff, shouldn’t we be celebrating this achievement?

On one hand, it’s hard to deny the opportunity that temporary positions provide for working mothers. However, these findings raise a wider question: are women choosing to work in part-time or temporary roles, or are they being pushed into them by a lack of flexibility in full-time positions?

Both full- and part- time working arrangements have their pros and cons, which is something we have discussed in a previous blog. The one you choose will invariably depend on your personal circumstances, such as family commitments or even lifestyle options. Take the former as a case in point.

As the task of child care almost always falls disproportionately on women, new or expecting mothers end up doing what they must in order to stay afloat financially and keep on the right track with their career.

In turn, the greater prevalence of working mothers in part-time and temporary positions plays a significant role in the overall gender pay gap in the UK; a gap which only gets wider after child birth. This is supported by a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which attempted to uncover the truth behind the sizeable gender wage gap in the British workforce.

While part-time workers’ wages keep pace with average earnings growth in the economy, the report found that working part time caused a shutdown to wage progression.

“It is remarkable that periods spent in part-time work lead to virtually no wage progression at all,” said Monica Costa Dias, an associate director at the IFS when commenting on the findings of the report. “It should be a priority for governments and others to understand the reasons for this. Addressing it would have the potential to narrow the gender wage gap significantly.”

However, the responsibility to close the gender pay gap is not restricted to the government. In tackling this issue, business leaders ought to recognise the needs of their female employees as well hopeful candidates who either plan to or already have children.

Rather than celebrating the floods of women flocking to temporary work, decision makers must ensure female workers can continue with their career plans no matter what their home life looks like. According to Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, employers could be doing a lot more to promote equal opportunities:

“We need to make it possible for part-time work to keep women on the career ladder. Employers should offer all roles, including more senior ones, as flexible working unless there is a good business case not to, and create more senior part-time roles,” he says. “It’s time to change our jobs market to one which helps parents, especially mothers, to get on."

For 20 years, the Allen Associates team has been helping employers in Oxfordshire secure the talent they really need. Can we help you? Click here for more information.

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