Inflexible employers 'driving women out of Britain's workforce'

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The Independent Online
EMPLOYERS must adapt their working practices to meet the demands of working mothers, or they could face a manpower crisis by the next millennium, a study warns today.

A survey of 1,000 professional women found that 57 per cent believed their career development had slowed down since having children and 41 per cent had to take a cut in salary on return to work. As a result of this, nearly one fifth of those questioned (18 per cent) said they were considering not having children, given the perceived inflexibility of employers and the impact of this attitude on their career prospects.

Carol Savage, managing director of The Resource Connection, which carried out the survey in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, said that British business can no longer ignore changing patterns in the workforce.

"Women now account for 44 per cent of the total workforce in this country and employers must keep pace with the changes if they are to retain the best qualified and most proficient staff," she said.

"The mentality among senior managers that there is a direct correlation between the hours spent in the office and promotional prospects is very common. But this study shows that what is needed is measurement by output achieved, not hours invested."

Almost 90 per cent of the women questioned for the survey said they wanted greater flexibility in their work patterns, including working from 10am to 4pm, with the chance to do more work from home, longer holidays and to be paid by the hour.

Ms Savage said many professional women had given up work altogether because of the problems of finding adequate childcare at a reasonable cost and the lack of flexible working hours.

"I am happy to work a 12-hour day, if necessary, but I don't want to work from 8am to 8pm. I would rather stop at 5pm so that I can put my son to bed and then work at home from 8pm to midnight," she said.

"Employers have got to realise that that can be just as productive as staying late every night and until that happens then many talented women will continue to give up their careers. With 73 per cent of our study holding degrees and 23 per cent with masters degrees, there is no doubt that they are a valuable resource and unless employers change their attitude they will lose a valuable part of the workforce."

Pat Zadora, president of the Business and Professional Women's Guild, said she was not surprised by the findings. "We have been seeing these problems for some considerable time and unless men and women can be treated on a equal basis with regard to children then things will not change. Childcare is still seen as an exclusively female area and that needs to change before employers will realise what is going on. We do need a change of attitude."