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  • 8th Mar 2021

Who is more likely to apply for flexible jobs – men or women?

The results may surprise you

Women are twice as likely to work flexibly compared to men – with women with children being the most likely to make use of flexible work arrangements. Consequently, many assumptions are made about part-time and flexible roles. Part-time positions in particular have become conflated with an unhelpful and inaccurate stereotype of mothers opting to take time to be with their family over advancing their career. This International Women’s Day, it’s time to dismantle these associations – we can now share results that show they have little foundation in data.

Part-time work in has been identified as a major contributor to the gender pay gap due to part-time roles being much less likely to reward workers with pay rises or promotions. If part-time workers were rewarded at the same pro-rata rate as full-time workers, the post-baby gender pay gap would halve. Put a different way, if men and women worked part-time at the same rate after they had a child, the gender pay gap would be cut in half. 

Mothers working part-time are not the only casualties of part-time penalties.  Men wishing to work part-time to care for children are likely to face an even larger “fatherhood forfeit” in terms of perceptions about their commitment to work, which then impacts pay and progression. People wishing to work part-time for other reasons – whether to care for others, to maintain their own health and wellbeing, to make time for other activities or play a more involved role in their communities – also find they have to trade off against their career developments and reward.

In our recent trial with jobsite Indeed, we found that mentioning flexibility on job adverts boosted applications by up to 30%. This got us wondering – “did women account for the majority of these new applications to flexible jobs?” Naturally we conducted a trial to find out.

Indeed does not collect data on applicant gender, so we ran an experiment on BIT’s online experimentation platform Predictiv to help us understand whether men and women respond differently to mentions of flexible working on job ads. The trial was conducted before the pandemic. 

We showed 5 different versions of a job advert to over 5,000 men and women, varying the working pattern description only. Participants saw a job advert which listed one of the following working patterns:

  • Full-time (control group).
  • Vague flexibility: ‘Full-time. Happy to talk flexible working’ (The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s campaign slogan).
  • Specific flexibility: As in our trial with Indeed, ‘Full-time; Flexible working options: working from home; compressed hours; flexitime.’
  • Specific flexibility plus part-time: Same as above with the addition of part-time working options
  • Specific flexibility plus part-time plus inclusive statement: ‘This job is offered on a part-time basis because we want the best people for our roles, and we recognise that sometimes those people aren’t available full time.’

Figure 1. Illustration of materials for participants (Control group – Full time)

They were then asked how likely they would be to shortlist the job advert if they saw it as part of a real job search. We compared the answers from men and women in our sample.


We found that women and men were both more likely to shortlist job adverts mentioning flexibility, compared to the control full-time offer. Moreover, both women and men prefer clarity – specific descriptions of the types of flexibility available – to vague promises. More transparent flexible working availability makes it easier to decide whether to apply for a role when you think you may want to take it up and easier still to obtain flexible working once in role. 

There were only two differences between men and women. A vague description of flexibility (‘happy to talk flexible working’) did not make men more likely to shortlist a job, compared to a full-time offer, whereas for women, any mention of flexibility – vague, specific or explicitly part-time – improved on the full-time control condition. Moreover, women rated the ad with specific mentions of flexibility plus a part-time option most highly, whilst for men it was the specific flexible working description which was the most desirable. 

Figures 2 & 3. The effect of flexible working on likelihood to shortlist the job

This suggests that:

  • contrary to popular stereotypes, both men and women desire flexibility;
  • transparency helps everyone decide whether a job vacancy is a good fit for them;
  • highlighting the flexible work arrangements available in detail is likely to attract both men and women equally and hence improve gender inclusivity in the workplace.

Check out the full report here

This trial was run by the Gender and Behavioural Insights (GABI) programme which is a collaboration between BIT and our funders, the Government Equalities Office. GABI builds the evidence on what works to improve gender equality in the workplace. 


Read the full report