Workplace Flexibility Key to Helping Women Maintain Careers After Childbirth

Flexibility in the workplace may be key to helping women stay in the labor force and maintain their personal career paths after childbirth, according to a new study at the University of Kent in England.

In fact, the researchers say that a flexible workplace is the most significant preventer of women dropping out of the workforce after having their first child.

The study also has significant implications for the debate on the gender pay gap, say the authors. They note that flexible working conditions can help eliminate some of the negative consequences of the “motherhood penalty,” by allowing new moms to remain in human-capital-intensive jobs, which can in turn help close the gender wage gap.

The study, led by Dr. Heejung Chung, of the University’s School of Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research, found that women who were able to use flexitime were only half as likely to reduce their hours after the birth of their child.

This effect was especially pronounced in women who used flexitime prior to the birth of their child as well as after, the researchers found.

The findings show that more than half of the women in the study sample reduced their working hours after the birth of their child, while less than a quarter of women who were able to use flexitime reduced their hours.

The researchers found that it is the use of flexitime — rather than perceived access to it — that appears to matter most. The researchers found that for mothers with newborn babies, perceived access to flexitime in itself was not enough to tackle the work-life balance demands they were faced with. The flexibility needs to be enacted to really make a difference.

The study will have implications for the debate over the UK’s gender pay gap, say the authors. “Flexible working may help alleviate some of the negative consequences of the motherhood penalty, by allowing mothers to remain in human-capital-intensive jobs, which can help diminish the gender wage gap,” write the researchers.

Furthermore, allowing new moms to maintain their employment status will have major implications for retaining human capital for companies and societies as a whole, the authors conclude.

The study titled “Women’s employment patterns after childbirth and the perceived access to and use of flexitime and teleworking” is published in the journal Human Relations.

Source: University of Kent