One of the most laudable initiatives to encourage a work - life balance that suits parents is that of flexible working hours. In theory at least. When I got pregnant, I had just changed to a new, permanent post. Part (and I stress part!) of the attraction of the new post which made me change jobs while pregnant and willingly relinquish the right to additional maternity leave was the greater job security (for once not an annually funded job in the voluntary sector) and the knowledge that a bigger organisation might be able to accommodate flexible working hours.
Upon my return, I reduced my hours to a four day week, which was hard at first but now suits me perfectly. Well, I sometimes wonder if a 3 day working week would be closer to perfection but on the whole, I'm happy with the arrangement.
Then there was a massive restructure of the organisation, one that got rid of my job. So for a while I was looking for a new job, while still hoping that there would be a different job for me in the new structure (which there was). When I was applying for jobs it became crystal clear that flexible working hours are fabulous if you are already in a job when you have a baby. However, if you want to change to a new job, things aren't so rosy. It's down to two options: you either take a well paid full time job, or a badly paid part time job. As to the badly paid part time job, they aren't just badly paid because you'll only work 2 1/2 days a week. Even the pro rata equivalent is significantly lower than a comparable full time job. My idea to land a full time job and then ask for job share or a four day week were illusionary at best. While I was confident that this was an option, the first post interview indication that I was hoping to do a 4 day week was greeted with great surprise and maybe was the reason why I didn't get the job.
Effectively, flexible working hours are only an option if you are already in a job (and your employer is kind). For those looking for employment, particularly those who have kids first and then look at a career, the outlook is dire. Underpaid part time jobs, sessional work or minimum wage are the price you pay for trying to spend some quality time with your children while still being economically active.
Effectively, because most people looking for flexible working hours are mothers (but clearly all fathers looking for flexible working hours are as affected by this), this situation leads to unequal pay for working mothers.
The root of the problem, in my view is that we are still entrenched in a 9-5 work pattern where flexibility is undesirable, although it may in fact be more efficient (for my part, I'm sure I work more intensely in the 4 days that I've got and that my employer is getting a good deal out of me). Maybe a bit of awareness raising around this issue might not be a bad thing, or an encouragement or even legal obligation for employers to offer any desired working hours set-up for new recruits, including one that would enable single parents to work from 9.30-2.30, i.e. during school hours.
It would be one step in the right direction towards enabling mothers to take up suitable and appropriately paid employment.
What about you? Are you on flexible working hours? What has been your experience? Have you changed jobs looking for flexible working hours? Did you have to accept a lower salary? I'd love to hear from you.