Could a five hour work day put an end to the 'motherhood wage gap'?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Flexible working conditions help reduce the "motherhood wage gap" between working women who don't have children and those who do.

University of British Colombia (UBC) researchers examined the impact flexible work arrangements had on women's wages using data from 20,879 women, of which 58 per cent were mothers.

Overall, regardless of qualifications, the "motherhood wage gap" reduced by 68 per cent when mothers worked flexible hours and by 58 per cent when they had the option to work from home.

What was most interesting was when they took educational qualifications into account. They found that flexible working conditions most benefited mums with postgraduate degrees.

For those mums who worked in jobs without flexible hours, they earned seven per cent less than childless women. While university educated mothers working flexible hours, earned 12 per cent more than their childless peers, also working flexible hours.

Associate professor at UBC's department of sociology, and the study's lead author, Sylvia Fuller said by offering fewer barriers to employment, firms were more inclined to hire mothers.

"Our findings suggest that, when companies allow work to be organised in a flexible way, they're less worried about hiring mothers," said Professor Fuller.

"Not only does flexibility make it easier for mothers to do well in their jobs, but it also alleviates concern from the employer that they'll be able to."

The study supports initiatives by companies to change the way they structure working conditions.

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Take for example, Tasmanian accounting firm Collins MBA. It introduced a five-hour working day (with full pay) last year as a trial and now it's the norm. Staff work from 9am to 2pm each day, giving parents, in particular, greater flexibility and encouraging more women to re-enter the workforce, after having kids.

Professor Julie Cogin, Academic Dean and Head of School at The University of Queensland Business School said offering flexible work conditions enlarges a firms' access to talent.

"A firm will be more attractive to men and women of all ages because employees have interests outside work and people need to adjust the time they spend doing paid and unpaid work at various stages of their lives," she said.

"In my opinion, it adds a competitive edge to a recruitment strategy." 

However, she warned that simply introducing flexibility alone was not enough, particularly for working mothers.

"The problem is that while flexible work conditions can help people manage multiple work and personal responsibilities, the availability of initiatives alone does not address fundamental aspects of a company or parts of it, which can inhibit women from successfully balancing career and family," Professor Cogin said.

"Specifically, flexible work conditions do not account for an organisational culture that impedes women from using the options available.

"I have observed many cases where women who take advantage of such arrangements and thus visibly demonstrate interest in family and personal life, face negative judgments regarding their lack of commitment to a team, the customer experience or their employer."

International speaker, author, business leader and mum of three kids, Lucy Bloom is someone who encourages and supports flexibility in the workplace, from the top down.

"I have had enormous success offering my team a family-friendly contract which is a 6 hour work day with a week off every school holidays and the whole of January off," Ms Bloom said.

"My staff have given me dedication, efficiency and output back in spades when they have the flexibility to do their job well and raise their family."

She said parents were great at time management.

"If you really want to get something done efficiently, give it to a parent who needs to be at school pick up by 3pm," she said.

"These staff churn through a full time load before 3pm because they're brutally efficient and do not waste a second of productive time."