Flexible working for all a great idea in an ideal world, say recruiters

Although broadly supportive, recruiters have questioned the practicalities of a recommendation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The report recommends that all jobs should be advertised as available for flexible working – unless there is a genuine business reason making this impossible.

The radical recommendation is a key plank in today’s report, which aims to “kick-start the change” necessary to close the pay gap between men and women, and between different ethnic groups and between non-disabled and disabled people. According to the report, the gender pay gap is 18.1%, the ethnic minority pay gap is 5.7% and the disability pay gap is 13.6%.

Melina Jacovou, CEO digital recruiter Propel London, told Recruiter that in principle she supported the recommendation on flexible working. “We are in a new age where the younger generation certainly want to work in their own time line. 

“If you want to attract people and for it to be an even playing field and you want everyone to be excited about the role and have the opportunity to move forward with it then absolutely, yes.”

However, she said there were practical difficulties in implementing it across the board. “I am not so sure you can have everyone in your workforce on flexible working. If it’s a big business it’s different. But in a smaller business, everyone being flexible at the same time could lead to situations in SMEs where people are not at their desks, the phone isn’t being answered because everyone is being flexible, it’s Friday afternoon and the sun is shining.

“As long as there is a structure in place and it is organised, why not? It will excite people to join the business and be part of it.”

Raj Tulsiani, CEO and co-founder Green Park, told Recruiter that while he “applauded the ambition of the report”, its weakness was the data it used on pay disparity by gender, ethnicity and disability was insufficiently detailed to be of practical use. He said the lack of detail “by seniority level makes the data little more than a catalyst to investigate a problem we already know about.”

Raphael Mokades, managing director at Rare Recruitment, told Recruiter: “The ambition to make flexible working available for as many people as possible is laudable. Many jobs are suitable for flexible working and that should be the default, if possible. There may be some jobs where flexible working is not possible but at the very least employers should ask themselves the question, ‘is this possible?’.”

Supriya Davda, client services manager and head of diversity at international recruiter McGregor Boyall Associates, told Recruiter: “The EHRC’s strategies appear to be a great place to start the shift.” She said she drew encouragement from Scandinavian counties, which have successfully implemented initiatives such as paid paternity leave and flexible working. “This also holds us to a certain level of accountability, because if they can do it, we can do it too,” she added.

Launching the report, ‘Fair Opportunities for all: A strategy to reduce pay gaps in Britain’, Caroline Waters, deputy chair of the EHRC said the time was right for “radical change”. 

“Subject choices and stereotypes in education send children of all genders, abilities and racial backgrounds on set paths. These stereotypes are then reinforced throughout the workplace in recruitment, pay and progression. For this to change, we need to overhaul our culture and make flexible working the norm; looking beyond women as the primary caregivers and having tough conversations about the biases that are rife in our workforce and society.”

The report makes five other recommendations:

  • unlock the earning potential of education by addressing differences in subject and career choices, educational attainment and access to apprenticeships
  • improve work opportunities for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live by investing in sector-specific training and regional enterprise
  • encourage men and women to share childcare responsibilities by making paternity leave a more effective incentive and improving access to childcare
  • increase diversity at all levels and in all sectors by encouraging employers to tackle bias in recruitment, promotion and pay, and introducing a new national target for senior and executive management positions
  • report on progress towards reducing pay gaps by extending reporting to ethnicity and disability and collecting annual statistics

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