Flexi Time Can Close Wage Gap Between Moms and Childless Women
One more benefit to alternative working arrangements.
Access to flexible working arrangements reduces the wage gap for mothers compared to women who don’t have children, new research from the University of British Columbia suggests.
The study, published recently in the journal Work and Occupations, is the first to look at how the use of flexi time affects the wage gap between mothers and childless women, and how this varies depending on a women’s education.
The researchers found that access to flexible working arrangements — such as being able to work from home and to choose work hours — improves wages for mothers, especially for those with a university education.
Workplace flexi time benefited mothers primarily by reducing barriers to employment in higher-paying firms, the researchers found.
Sylvia Fuller, the study’s lead author and associate professor in the UBC department of sociology, said the findings offer an important lesson for hiring managers.
“Our findings suggest that, when companies allow work to be organized in a flexible way, they’re less worried about hiring mothers,” said Fuller. “Not only does flexibility make it easier for mothers to do well in their jobs, but it also alleviates concern from the employer that they’ll be able to.”
The researchers examined work and education data of Canadian women between 1999 and 2005; roughly 58% of the women sampled were mothers. They found flexible work hours reduced the motherhood wage gap by 68%, while the ability to work from home reduced the wage gap by 58%.
For women with postgraduate degrees, flexible hours made the biggest difference. Without flexible hours, such mothers earned 7% less than childless women. Among those working flexible hours, however, mothers earned 12% more compared to childless women who also had flexible hours.
The findings build on earlier research from Fuller that found mothers overall tend to earn less than childless women because they’re not being hired by the highest paying firms.
In India, mothers may not be hired at all; it’s not uncommon for young women to be asked during the interview process about their family plans — the implication being their employment hinges on their answers. Businesses assume and actively plan for women to exit the workforce upon giving birth, and not without reason (or culpability) — only 27% of women are part of India’s workforce. Of those that are, a disproportionately small number make it to senior managerial level or higher.
The Indian government has taken steps aimed at supporting and retaining mothers in the workforce by lengthening maternity leave, mandating employer-provided creches, and encouraging work-from-home policies. While these moves are encouraging, there is concern that the stringency of requirements only associated with women may have the unintended effect of discouraging companies from hiring them. Even if that’s not the case, the focus on mothers and the time immediately after birth is limiting; the demands of motherhood — of parenthood — that can interfere with professional obligations, career-building, and income trajectory don’t end with infancy.
Which means, while studies like this and others are proving what a boon flexi time can be to working mothers, it’s worth keeping in mind it’s as much about the policy itself as how it’s implemented.