by Charlotte Woodrow, Gender Equality Campaign Director at Business in the Community
This International Women’s Day falls at a heavy time. Around the world, progress on gender equality seems freshly challenged, with the ongoing skewed impact of the pandemic, the push against women’s bodily autonomy, and now the knowledge that women and girls will be among some of the worse affected by the situation in Ukraine.
Against this backdrop, it can be hard to see what opportunities there are to press for change and move to a better future. But BITC’s new campaign, Who Cares? seeks to do just that. The goal of greater equality is something we must not lose sight of, even now, and some of the ongoing tumult, in the working world in particular, heralds new opportunities to drive progress.
Today we are calling on businesses across our network and beyond to transform how we think about combining paid work and caring responsibilities.
We are revealing the results of one of the largest surveys of contemporary experiences of combining paid work and care, conducted in partnership with Ipsos. The findings are startling, highlighting a clear gap between contemporary needs and attitudes and the realities that many people experience when trying to engage in work.
- 6 in 10 women with caring responsibilities have found they can’t apply for a job or promotion because of the challenge of combining paid work with their other responsibilities (and 2 in 10 men with caring responsibilities said the same thing).
- 1 in 2 carers from a Black, Asian, Mixed Race or other ethnically diverse background report the same, and 1 in 3 have left or have considered leaving a job due to a lack of flexibility.
- Although flexibility is key for working carers, more than 50% of people would not feel comfortable asking to work flexibly when applying for a job.
These worrying trends come at an extremely high cost, undermining gender equality at work (and beyond), impacting other groups’ inclusion and progress at work, and denying different groups equitable access to care. But this isn’t just bad for individuals, families and wider society. Pushing some groups down and out of the workforce means less diverse businesses, which we know undermines profitability.
Fixing things will not happen overnight, but there are some clear levers employers and policy makers can pull:
- Consider caring the norm, not the exception. As part of this tackle unequal access to care, making sure your policies and working culture promote this agenda, are transparent and widely published, and reflect what working carers say they need: flexibility is key.
- Champion equitable access to care for all genders in your policies. Our research found most people think caring isn’t the preserve of one gender, but most organisations’ policies around parenting would have you think this was the case. Changing this means equalising parental leave where you can and taking steps to level up where you can’t.
- Foster a culture that supports men to care. Supporting women to ‘have it all’ will only get us so far, we need to enable more men to play a key role in caring, which our research tells us they would like but can’t always access in reality.
- Specifically support men to work flexibly. It’s key to sharing care, but it is mainly women that do it. Making flexible working more widespread will help address the skewed way women carry the bulk of these responsibilities but will also go some way to addressing the stigma that can cause part-time and other ‘different’ workers to be penalised.
Creating a more equal working world and a fairer and more equitable society where everybody who wants or needs to can care shouldn’t be rocket science. It takes effort, determination, and employers who are prepared to embrace change in the knowledge that this also makes good business sense. But if not now, when? This #IWD it is time to #BreakTheBias and empower everyone to care.