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27 Mar 2024
by Jennifer Liston-Smith

Women feeling the impact as employer focus on family slips

Report says women feel less confident about discussing family issues with employers and less able to progress their careers

Women feeling the effect as employer care about family slips.jpg


Working parents feel the level of family inclusion from employers has fallen since last year, according to Bright Horizons’ 2024 Modern Families Index – and the negative affect was particularly felt by women.

The data reveals there’s a drop in employer openness to conversations about family as well as less belief that employers care about work-home balance. These had all been rising in previous years, but now seem to be falling.

The perception that managers care about work-home balance fell 2 percentage points to 67% versus 2023, while confidence in talking about family issues at work slipped 4 percentage points to 67%.

The negative trend comes in female survey responses. In 2023, 71% of all parents felt confident discussing family related issues with their employer: 67% of men, 74% of women. In 2024, this fell to 67% overall and while men’s confidence has risen to 71%, women’s has fallen to 63%.

Almost twice as many women as men who work flexibly do so to meet childcare responsibilities: of women who work flexibly, 51% say it is to fulfil childcare requirements (27% for men).

However, women feel less able to progress their careers while working flexibly this year: In 2023, 68% of men and 67% of women felt able to progress while working flexibly. In 2024, for men the figure rose risen (71%), for women it fell (63%).

What women want 

A headline within the main MFI report was that the flight risk has risen. More than two-fifths (42%) of all working parents are now likely to look for new employment in the next 12 months, compared with 38% last year. 

The increase has been among women. This year, 38% of women are looking for new work, compared with 30% last year, while the figure for men has stayed the same at 45%.

Family support is a reason for leaving for 34% of women in this survey who are considering quitting. It comes second only to higher pay (43%) and above reasons such as wanting a change (33%), career progression (31%), better benefits (27%) or feeling disengaged (23%).

In gender differences, the quest for family support is however one of the smaller disparities: it is 10% (or 3 percentage points) higher for women than it is for men.

There’s a bigger difference in women wanting a change (compared with a 22% uplift for men) and seeking career progression (15%). Women quote being disengaged as a driver 15% more than men. 

Men sway strongly toward seeking a better organisational culture (a 41% rise for men vs women seeking this) and men are more deterred by ‘practical aspects e.g. commuting’ (18% higher than women).

So, yes, women are seeking better family support and many will not engage without it. However, it seems women are also tired of being seen only as working mothers and actually want more of a run at career progression, which the survey shows is falling behind.

Carrying the parenting load

Three-quarters (74%) of women say they carry the mental load for parenting, compared with just under half (48%) of men. That’s a relative rise of 54%. Some households share it equally, according to 43% of men but just 24%of women.

Two-thirds of men (66%) and half (52%) of women say they are happy with the balance of the mental load for parenting in your family But 39% of women would like their partner to do more (vs 13% of men). More than one-fifth (21%) of men would like to be responsible for more (vs just 9% of women).

Just over one in 10 (11%) of our sample were in same-sex couple households. Still, the implication for male-female households is that women are doing more and that both parties have at least some appetite for change. 

Childcare is vital to the economy

BusinessLDN, KPMG and the Central District Alliance launched their report: No Kidding: How Transforming Childcare can Boost the Economy at the end of February.

Among other findings, KPMG economists worked out that increasing the employment rate among parents with children under five by 250,000 could increase GDP by up to £11.3bn per annum, promising an annual boost to UK public finances of up to £3.2bn.

Bright Horizons took part in the development of this report. The recommendations include:

Reduce the cost of childcare for parents

  • Widen funded places to 48 weeks a year
  • Extend funding to parents undertaking training/education
  • Smooth the eligibility bands (e.g. £100k cap for funded places; £50k - £60K thresholds for child benefit reduction or loss)
  • Bring forward primary school funding for wrap-around care
  • Workplace nursery partnerships – clarify the tax rules to enable more employers to form partnerships with local nurseries, giving parents access to tax & NI savings

Increase the availability of childcare

  • Build in reviews of funded hours
  • Give providers temporary relief from business rates
  • Ensure funding enables pay that attracts talent to early education as a profession
  • Bolster public awareness of funded hours schemes

Recommendations for the government to maintain quality of childcare

  • Develop career profile of early years
  • Expand family hubs

According to Bright Horizon’s Modern Families Index, childcare and elder care are consistently seen as vital supports for career progression. In 2024, 76% of men and 80% of women said they would seriously consider their childcare arrangements before accepting a new job or promotion. 

This is up from 70% and 79% respectively in 2023, with a notable rise among working fathers. The role of early education in career progression is clearly of rising importance for both men and women.

Gender pay gap – a persistent shortfall

PwC’s review of global gender pay gaps – Women in Work Index 2024: ‘Unmasking inequalities’ – found the UK’s rank fell from 13th to 17th place – “the largest annual fall in rankings experienced by any OECD country this year”. This was driven, it said, by a widening of the gender pay gap in the UK from 14.3% in 2021 to 14.5% in 2022.

Meanwhile, HR platform HiBob’s third annual UK Women Professionals in the Workplace report showed one in 10 men believe they are paid more than women, compared with over 3 in 10 women (31%). The report goes on: “Regarding the impact of parenthood on career progression, 54% of women report a negative effect compared to 33 percent of men. Intriguingly, 31% of men believe children have a positive impact on career progression, in contrast to 19% of women.”

FTSE reveals progress on boards

However, The FTSE Women Leaders Review shows progress towards gender equity milestones and the Level 20 study of parental leave in private equity shows progress in recognising the importance of supporting family life, for all genders.

The FTSE review backed by KPMG & Lloyds Banking Group, highlighted that the milestone for having 40% of women on FTSE 350 Boards was reached this time last year, three years, ahead of target. This year sees 42.1% women’s representation, “an all-time high”.

Further, the number of All-Male Executive Committees in the FTSE 350 has fallen to just nine this year, down from “an astonishing 50 in 2018”.

But the report calls for sustained effort for  the FTSE 350 to meet the 40% target for Women in Leadership by the end of 2025.

Parental Leave in private equity

February saw the launch of Level-20’s groundbreaking ‘Family leave in private equity’. 

“While generous policies in the wider financial services industry are publicised when hiring talent, in private equity and venture capital, information on family leave provision has usually come through informal networks or discussions with firms directly. This research is the first of its kind to publish comprehensive information on family leave policies and practice in European private equity” says Gurpreet Manku, CEO, Level 20.

Key findings include:

  • 84% of private equity firms are reviewing or have reviewed policies in the last two years
  • Just 19% make them available to job applicants
  • 80% of firms enhance maternity leave. Average maternity leave offered at full pay is six months, with more than half of firms offering 24-30 weeks leave.
  • 74% enhance paternity leave. Average paternity leave offered at full pay is four weeks, though, where firms are equalising, this is significantly higher
  • 33% equalise maternity and paternity leave. These firms are more likely to be Europe-based rather than in the UK and internationally
  • 22% offer parental leave coaching or mentoring
  • 44% of firms offer return to work planning and 40% offer structured keeping in touch days, which are most commonly used for team building or catch ups (45%), board duties (33%) and portfolio or relationship management (28%).

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