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The rise of the working mum: A way to boost the workforce?

PUBLISHED: 15:10 04 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:10 04 October 2017

Childcare. Picture: c/o Willis Towers Watson

Childcare. Picture: c/o Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson

Working mothers are playing an increasingly important role in the modern workforce - but employers must offer them the flexibility to balance a career with family life. Doug Faulkner reports.

Childcare. Picture: c/o Willis Towers Watson Childcare. Picture: c/o Willis Towers Watson

The number of working mothers has increased to record levels over the last 20 years, but experts say more needs to be done to ensure parents know their rights.

While businesses becoming more receptive to flexible working has been cited as one reason for the increase, the rise of zero-hour contracts and the “gig economy” could also be factors.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of working mums with dependant children rose to 4.9m in England in 2017, up 11.8% in 20 years.

In the East of England, there was an employment rate of 72.9% among women aged 16 to 64 with children in 2016 – higher than the 71% figure for women without offspring.

Liz Stevens, employment lawyer at Birketts. Picture: Birketts Liz Stevens, employment lawyer at Birketts. Picture: Birketts

Liz Stevens, employment lawyer at East Anglian legal firm Birketts, said one reason behind the rise was a change in perceptions about asking to go part-time.

She said: “The right to request flexible working has become much more acceptable, not only for mothers but for fathers as well.

“It is becoming more popular in sectors which have perhaps been more traditional and the government’s childcare policy, and the increase in the number of free hours of childcare, is going to help.”

She added: “Employers are certainly more aware of their legal responsibilities now, but crucially many are now also beginning to recognise the benefit to the organisation of flexible working as a strategy for attracting and retaining key skills and talent, and keeping competitive in the market place at a time when the workforce is shrinking.”

Sophie Kendall and her son Alex. Pic: Submitted. Sophie Kendall and her son Alex. Pic: Submitted.

The ONS study found women with children aged between three and four years old had the lowest employment rate, 65.1% in 2017, and were most likely to work part-time.

Less than half of single mothers were in work, the ONS said.

Suitable childcare has been highlighted as a struggle, with a study by Willis Towers Watson finding only 30% of East Anglian workers said their employer currently offered childcare support or benefits, and 28% saying not enough was being done by businesses to support workers with children.

Ms Stevens said she would be interested to know how many employed mothers were working on zero-hour contracts, although she said the flexibility could be a benefit for parents.

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