Employers love talking up how they offer flexible work, but that doesn’t always translate into valuing the careers of part time employees.
That’s an assumption I’m making based on some of the preliminary data to come out of our 2019 Ambitions Survey, which we’ve had our heads down exploring this week in the lead up to launching our full report on the findings at the end of February, in partnership with AGSM.
The close to 2000 women we surveyed reported a huge range of ambitions for the next two years (data we can’t wait to share more on), but the perils of part time work came up over and over again, among other impediments and obstacles in the way of achieving ambitions.
This was particularly true in the hundreds of comments we received from women who indicated they have experienced some form of discrimination after taking a career break in the past 10 years for the purposes of caring for children.
Some of the discrimination detailed is nothing short of horrific — including dozens of women who said they had been made redundant, or seen their position change significantly, while pregnant, on maternity leave or shortly after returning to work (in some cases even in the same week that they returned after having a child). Breastfeeding discrimination came up numerous times, as did plenty of atrocious off-the-cuff comments from managers and colleagues about being pregnant (Eg, ‘this is why it’s so difficult hiring women in their thirties’, and ‘Are you keeping the baby?’ Seriously).
Again, we’ll be sharing more on all this in the coming weeks. There is so much to discuss and highlight here on Women’s Agenda — especially how these real and raw experiences from women fly in the face of what so many employers are telling us regarding how they value women’s participation.
But in this column, I want to share a little more on the many comments from women saying they believe they have been discriminated against because they are working part time.
For some working part time, it was feeling like they were perceived to be under-committed to the role. They were being left out of important decisions and overlooked for promotions and other opportunities, particularly the opportunity to take a leadership position. They were put on the ‘mummy track’, considered useful but not useful enough to be given responsibilities beyond a junior or middle management capacity. They were left out of development training and barred from strategic decision making.
Some even had full-time employees sniggering at the fact they were leaving at a set time each day, or continually making the same unhelpful comments about their workload (Eg, repeatedly asking, ‘What days are you in again’ as an ice-breaker during a meeting, or, ‘It must be great having Fridays off’ despite the employee not actually being paid to work Fridays).
For others, it was feeling like they were stuck in a dead-end role, often for years and years, unable to move anywhere or find any kind of fulfilment from their careers.
A number of people reported having their requests to work part time after having kids needlessly rejected — while others found that they were being pushed into working additional days, despite being unable to take on the load.
Some said they were only noticed for promotion when they put in more face time or an extra day, and that they weren’t considered to be “team players” because they couldn’t stay late in the office.
Women reported leaving jobs, as well as industries altogether, due to the fact their employer was willing to truly accommodate their caring responsibilities. These women had, in some cases, spent years studying and getting the necessary experience required in order to get to the point of being able to truly excel at their chosen profession. What an absolute waste.
These women who shared their part time experiences were not working part time for a full time salary — they are earning less than many of their colleagues in return for supposedly being able to have set days and times out of the office. They are not paid for their ‘off’ days, and in many cases have a ‘second shift’ to get to when they leave the office. Many will never have the time to attend a long lunch or an afternoon drinks session. Some will throw everything — including their sanity and mental health — at trying to be as productive as possible in the limited hours they have available during the day when they’re technically being ‘paid’, and then work late into the night to catch up on additional and unreasonable workloads.
There is something so broken in our current system of work. Employers talk up the fixes and their own innovations around flexible work — and some are doing a much better job than others — but the reality is that talent continues to be wasted, or driven to despair, to ill health and possibly out of the workforce altogether. And some employers don’t even pretend to care.
If you’d like to share any of your own experiences working part time and possibly what you believe can change to support this segment of the workforce, please get in touch.
Stay tuned for the release of our extensive Ambitions report in the coming weeks, and thank you to everyone who participated and supported in this research, including the AGSM at the University of NSW Business School.