From education to employment

Women much more likely than men to have flexible work arrangements that lead to loss of hours and pay

woman at work

Women are much more likely than men to be in flexible working arrangements that mean they lose hours, and therefore pay, according to new TUC analysis of official statistics.

The findings are published today (Thursday), a year to the day the government closed its consultation on flexible work, and ahead of the next committee stage of Yasmin Qureshi MP’s private members bill on flexible work.

Flexible work

Millions of people across the UK are now working flexibly. Flexible working can take lots of different forms, including working from home, job sharing, compressed hours, part-time and term-time working.

Some of these arrangements, like part-time and term-term only working, have a financial impact as staff work less hours so receive less pay.

But other forms of flexible work, like home working and compressed hours, mean workers can continue to work full-time and not lose hours and therefore pay.

Flexible work arrangements with less hours

The new TUC analysis reveals that women are much more likely than men to be in flexible working arrangements that mean they work less hours and take a salary hit, like part-time and term-time only working.

The union body argues that a lack of good flexible working opportunities and the unequal division of caring responsibilities is forcing some women into flexibility that results in loss of pay:

  • Part-time: Part-time working (less than 30 hours a week) is by far the most common form of flexible working arrangement for women. More than one in three (35.7%) work part-time, compared to just one in nine (11.5%) men. According to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a woman working part-time is paid on average £5.40 an hour less than a full-time man (a 33% pay gap). And not only are part-time workers paid less than full-time workers – but they have fewer career, pay and progression opportunities compared to full-time workers.
  • Term-time only: Nearly one in 13 (7.9%) of women work term-time only, for around 39 weeks of the year instead of 52 weeks (75% of the year). But less than one in 50 (1.8%) men choose this option, so women are over four times more likely than men to be working term-time only.
  • Job sharing: While job sharing is the least common form of flexible working arrangement, women are three times more likely than men (0.6% compared to 0.2%) to be in a job share role – where more than one worker shares a job.  


However, the picture with homeworking is different. The analysis reveals that even before the pandemic, men were more likely than women to be working at home, which doesn’t result in a loss of hours. 

In 2019, one in 13 (8%) men were working at home, compared to one in 17 (6%) women. And in 2021, nearly one in 4 (23%) men worked mainly at home, compared to just over one in 5 (21%) women.

Even in jobs dominated by women, men are more likely than women to be homeworking:

  • In arts and recreation, where over half (52%) of employees are women, only one in six (16%) work from home, compared to around one in five (19%) men.
  • And in accommodation and food, (again where more than half, 56%, of the workforce are women), around one in 50 (2%) women work at home, compared to one in 25 (4%) men.

The TUC argues that greater access to all types of flexible working arrangements would provide more opportunity for women to take up the types of flexibility – should they want to – that do not impact hours worked and pay. 

The union body says that part-time jobs must also be designed to ensure they offer equivalent pay, and the same career and progression opportunities, so that those who do want to work part time don’t miss out.

And normalising and improving flexible working options would also encourage more men to take up these options and share caring responsibilities, says the TUC. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Flexible work shouldn’t always mean less hours or less pay.

“But too often, women pay a heavy financial price for trying to balance their work and caring responsibilities, being forced to drop hours – and lose pay – rather than fork out for extortionate childcare costs.

“This isn’t right. We need to ensure everyone has access to as many flexible working options as possible – not just the ones that leave you worse off.

“Flexible working lets people both work and support their families. It’s how we keep mums in their jobs and close the gender pay gap. It gives dads more time with their kids. And it helps disabled workers, older workers and carers stay in work.

“But the current system isn’t working. Employers can turn down flexible working requests with impunity. And workers are too scared to ask about flexible working when applying for a job, for fear of not getting appointed.

“Ministers promised to modernise employment law to make flexible working options the norm for every job.

“The way to do that is for ministers to require all jobs to be advertised with the possible flexible working options stated – and to give all workers the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.”

Government consultation

Ministers have promised to strengthen flexible working. The government ran a flexible work consultation at the end of last year.

Over 5,700 people submitted a response to this but almost a year on, they are still waiting for the results. 

The TUC wants the consultation to deliver real flexibility for working people, including:

  • Unlocking the flexibility in all jobs. Every job can be worked flexibly. There are a range of hours-based and location-based flexibilities to choose from – and there is a flexible option that will work for every type of job. Employers should think upfront about the flexible working options that are available in a role, publish these in all job adverts and give successful applicants a day one right to take it up.
  • Making flexible working a genuine legal right from the first day in a job. People should have the right to work flexibly from day one, unless the employer can properly justify why this is not possible. Workers should have the right to appeal any rejections. And there shouldn’t be a limit on how many times you can ask for flexible working arrangements in a year.

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