During COVID-19, many of us have got used to working more flexibly – whether that’s because we’re working from home rather than in the office, reducing hours, or trying a different working pattern e.g. starting earlier and finishing later to allow for breaks during the day for homeschooling. Lots of us are seeing the benefits of a more flexible approach to work – with 13 million people saying they’d like to continue to work flexibly on a permanent basis once coronavirus restrictions have fully lifted.
Given the changes in working life brought on as a result of COVID-19, employers are now considering what the future of work might look like. This is a key moment for workplace flexibility – will we be able to sustain and build on some of the successes of recent months, or will we revert back to old patterns once lockdown restrictions lift? We think our work with Zurich Insurance UK, funded by the Government Equalities Office, provides some valuable lessons.
Why does flexibility matter?
The difference in pay between women and men tends to increase sharply after the birth of a woman’s first child. Women are much more likely than men to move to part-time working, often to balance home and care responsibilities. Once women move to part-time roles, they often fail to progress entirely – perhaps because only 15% of roles are advertised with flexible working opportunities. This can mean women get ‘stuck’ – unable to apply to new external roles, or receive promotions in their existing jobs.
We partnered with Zurich Insurance UK to understand the drivers of the Gender Pay Gap in the organisation, as well as possible solutions. In line with our hypotheses, we discovered that part-time staff were 35% less likely to apply for promotions. Interviews with part-time staff suggested that many thought they would be unable to progress without increasing their working hours, because jobs above them in the promotion chain were not explicitly open to part-time working.
We knew that small changes in the wording of job ads could change applicant behaviour. We also knew that our choices are strongly influenced by default options, as following a default is easy and friction-free. Using these insights, we developed a simple intervention where we switched the default, so that all new vacancies would be advertised as available for part-time work, or as a job-share, in addition to full-time. Hiring managers could still choose to opt-out, by providing a business case stating why the role could not be done part-time.
Figure 1. Illustration of our intervention
The intervention consisted of 3 changes to job adverts:
- Part-time working options were included in the job title heading
- Part-time working options were mentioned at the very top of the advert text
- An inclusive sentence was included in the job advert e.g. ‘this role is available part-time… because we want the best people for our roles and we recognise that sometime those people aren’t available full-time’
The trial was live for 12 months, and we evaluated results using a before-after analysis.
More jobs were advertised part-time, and these attracted more diverse candidates
There were high compliance rates – with at least 78% jobs advertised according to the new policy. We did not find an increase in the proportion of employees at Zurich working part-time. However, this may be because the proportion of part-time staff was offset by other factors influencing joining rates, resignation rates, or working patterns – such as company redundancies. When we looked at the working patterns of sub-groups, we found small non-significant increases in part-time working both amongst new joiners and staff who stayed at Zurich throughout the before and after periods.
There was a significant increase of 16.4% in the proportion of female applicants to roles at Zurich. This was also true when we just looked at senior positions, where there was a 19.3% increase in the proportion of female applicants. This intervention provides really promising evidence for employers who want to attract more women to senior roles, and reduce their Gender Pay Gap.
We also surveyed part-time staff at Zurich and found a significant increase in their sense of organisational belonging.
This trial provides important lessons for employers namely by offering part-time and flexible work options you can attract a more diverse range of candidates and create a more positive culture for part-time staff. And by switching the default – so that offering part-time work is the norm – you’ll make it easy for hiring managers to attract these candidates by removing the friction from the process.