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Almost two-thirds of employers admit risk of forcing out women employees if business practices don’t change

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Almost two-thirds (59%) of employers say if current working practices don’t change, companies run the risk of forcing out women employees, according to new research from global prize innovation experts, Challenge Works.

The data, which also finds that 7 in 10 (71%) employers from future-focused industries say there won’t be enough people from low-income backgrounds without change, suggests women employees are also concerned – with a third (29%) of working women from lower-income backgrounds with children saying they will have to stop work due to caring responsibilities at some point in future.

The new survey coincides with the release of the ‘Pathways to Progress’ report from Challenge Works, supported by JPMorgan Chase, identifying barriers stopping women from low-income backgrounds from accessing employment in future-focused sectors.

As vacancies in future-focused industries such as technology are on the rise and talent is in demand, two-thirds (66%) of women from lower-income households with children say that businesses have to change their attitudes towards flexible work for the workplace to be accessible for women in future.

The data, as well as qualitative findings in the report, suggest there are numerous issues preventing working women from lower-income households with children from staying in jobs. A quarter (26%) have care duties for either children or ageing parents with the same figure (25%) saying they can only work on a flexible schedule, including part-time or remotely. A third (33%) say they would be put off applying for jobs because they don’t have the relevant skills or experience, but are caught in a vicious cycle as 14% say they can’t afford the training needed to overcome this.

A third (33%) of working women from lower-income backgrounds with children would be interested in jobs in a sector focused on future technology and innovation. However, although some employers from future-focused industries admit to the need for more diverse teams (78%) and are adapting hiring practices to achieve this, eight in ten (78%) say they should do more to recruit from low-income households, and many also admitted to hiring practices stuck in the past.

The majority of employers from future-focused industries said when hiring, they look for employees who could work full time (81%), in the office at all times (73%) and for specialist qualifications (77%). Four-fifths (82%) also said their industry requires long working hours and candidates are expected to commit to these, while three-quarters (74%) suggested that where training is offered, it takes place at fixed times.

While outdated working expectations remain, there is recognition that change is needed from women and employers alike.

Stephanie Mestrallet, Executive Director Global Philanthropy, JPMorgan Chase, said: “When women from low-income communities are integrated into the workforce, it has a ripple effect for generations to come. For a more inclusive economy, it is crucial that we ensure these workers have access to the resources and tools they need to compete for and thrive in quality jobs. The Pathways to Progress report lays out several recommendations to enable more people to access careers in future-focused industries.”

Last month [JULY], the Flexible Working Bill completed its final stage in the House of Lords, meaning the new law, that will introduce an easier process in relation to flexible working requests, is almost approved.

While this is a welcome development, the Pathways to Progress report includes a number of recommendations and innovative solutions as to how employers, funders and policymakers can make future-focused workplaces more accessible for women from low-income backgrounds, including:

  • Accounting for caring responsibilities by experimenting with flexible working practices, including a four-day working week, job-sharing and other approaches.
  • Making job adverts more accessible by considering the use of language, bringing up certain benefits and using informal networks such as social media advertising to recruit.
  • Collaborating with training providers on new models and approaching people looking to get back into work.
  • Initiating or engaging in industry-wide efforts to develop and implement apprenticeship standards for a wide variety of roles.
  • Tech-enabled training courses to allow for more flexibility for wider access and participation.
  • Tailor-made career support programmes for certain industries

Teodora Chis, Researcher at Challenge Works and Lead Author for the Pathways to Progress report said: “Starting the conversation about supporting employees with care duties is just one step in tackling barriers for women from lower-income backgrounds when it comes to future-focused jobs.

“Our report identified numerous challenges, which, beyond care duties, include better funding for training and improved hiring and employee support practices. In order to overcome these, we need to see not only changing attitudes but also policy, alongside innovative practices throughout the training, recruitment and employment journey.”

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