We love a party here at Digital Mums - any excuse for celebrating success and the amazing women that we have within our community (slight logistics problem though that there are so many of us now!). So when we heard that today was Flexible Working Awareness Day we were pretty excited to have a slice of celebratory cake and share the virtual love with you all. Mr Coop was even looking forward to an extra large treat.
In fact the first ever Flexible Working Awareness Day was only last year. It was a day to showcase the benefits of flexible working and celebrate the companies empowering their employees to do it. The idea was to build momentum around the idea across the UK's business world. May 6th, today, was chosen as the annual date to celebrate. But unless you really search for it there is almost no coverage of the day this year.
The story so far
Let’s just take you back to June 2014 when the right to apply for flexible working was extended to cover all employees in the UK. It was pretty exciting - it seemed like a massive step in the right direction. We were piloting our courses at the time and there seemed to be a real recognition of a shifting modern workforce demanding more freedom in how and when they worked. There was much talk about the opportunities technology had created for us to work beyond the office.
Then last year on the first annual Flexible Working Awareness Day there was definitely some noise and encouragement from organisations and government that we were making progress. Fast forward 365 days and there seem to be some serious party poopers around. A simple google search shows there is hardly any mention of it this year. And actually when you think about it, on a wider scale, we're not much closer to flexible working than we were a year ago. Our government's policy may allow for it, but unfortunately it's not translating into real results.
*Part time does not equal flexible
And the reasons for this are numerous, but we think there are two main barriers standing in its way.
The first is the currently loose definition of 'flexible working.' We have many mums that join our training who have worked in 'flexible jobs' before. Essentially these mean having part-time hours, which often retain the same issues around commuting and childcare. Three days a week is sometimes classified as 'flexible working' but it's actually far from this. Many of them have found it too much and stopped working, even though they really wanted to continue. Some businesses think they are already offering flexible working, when in fact they're really not. We need to reframe what 'flexible working' actually is and what it isn't - part-time does not automatically equal flexible.
The second issue is cultural inertia from UK businesses. We need a significant shift from businesses to accept that people can do their jobs remotely and do them well. Until businesses recognise this, nothing will change.
This isn't a call for all companies to offer flexible working. Not every role, job or industry is right for it. But many are and that number is growing as the UK's digital economy grows so quickly.
Maternity discrimination isn't going away
The lack of flexible working affects everyone, but it's an issue that disproportionately affects parents and, in particular, mums. The waste of women's skills in this country costs us £36bn a year, equal to 2% of GDP. We were recently featured in Management Today talking about maternity discrimination and it makes for depressing reading.
Flexible working - Digital Mums style
But equally we’re always ones to look on the bright side when we can. We know that flexible working works. We're living proof that it does, with over 20 of our own team working remotely, from anywhere between five hours per week to full-time. We are based in London our team is spread across the country. We all communicate daily via Slack and while we might not be geographically close, we still work incredibly effectively as a team.
Some of our team are even going international. Our content strategist, Rachel, is moving to Ecuador with her family for six months shortly and she is going to keep working for us while she is there.
Another member of our team, Nina, chose to come back to work within four weeks of the birth of her third child. There was clearly no pressure from us but she felt that, as she dictated her own hours from home, she could make it work. And she most certainly is.
For us, the basis of a strong team is trust in all of the brilliant women (and man!) that work for us. One of our team gets up at 5.30am most days to work, and while that might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, that is her most productive time of day.
By offering this third way to mums, whether on our own team or through our training, we have got some incredibly experienced women back into the workplace. But we're one organisation and we'll never be able to do it alone. There needs to be more done by all businesses in the UK. And letting Flexible Working Awareness Day fizzle out is a step in the wrong direction.
So from us at Digital Mums, Happy Flexible Working Awareness Day. Let's keep at it.