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Surge of flexible UK jobs could boost post-COVID gender equality

LaToya Harding
·3-min read
Women have been more likely to have lost their job due to COVID-19, according to McKinsey research. Photo: Getty
Women have been more likely to have lost their job due to COVID-19, according to McKinsey research. Photo: Getty

Hundreds of thousands of new flexible jobs could be created if employers in the UK were more transparent about job details, with women most likely to benefit, according to new research.

The data, from the world's largest jobs site Indeed and the government-backed Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), revealed that offering flexible working explicitly in job adverts would increase applications by up to 30%.

The research analysed nearly 20 million job applications and is thought to be the largest of its kind conducted in Britain.

It discovered that prompting employers to clearly advertise flexible working options led to a 20% increase in the number of jobs advertised as flexible, which could boost at least 174,000 flexible jobs to the UK economy in a year.

An accompanying study also found that both men and women are equally attracted to flexible working, however, women stood to benefit most from flexible working options, as pre-pandemic women were twice as likely to work flexibly BIT said.

Women have been more likely to have lost their job due to COVID-19, according to McKinsey research, and new job postings data from Indeed showed occupations that attract more women than men were those that recorded the heaviest declines in openings since the pandemic.

These were food preparation and service (down 83% since 1 February 2020), beauty and wellness (which posted a 82% fall) and hospitality and tourism (-77%).

Despite the declines, the female employment rate remains historically high at 72%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), but it still lags behind male employment at 78.4%.

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READ MORE: Gender pay gap hits UK's women in work ranking

Minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss, called for the normalisation of flexible working to help level up the UK, boost opportunities for women and reduce geographic inequality as we recover from COVID-19.

Making flexible working the norm, rather than something employees have to specially request, will help open up opportunities to people regardless of their sex or location,” she said.

“The fact is that for many jobs there has been a closed shop, requiring people to live in high-cost accommodation close to the centre of cities or maintain working arrangements that are very hard to combine with family or other responsibilities.

“We now have the chance to break down that door and boost opportunities for everyone.”

Pawel Adrjan, head of EMEA research at Indeed, said: “COVID-19 turned the labour market upside down and today job vacancies are -37% below their pre-pandemic trend. While no sector has been immune to the virus some have fared worse than others with job postings drying up much faster and deeper in customer-facing occupations that typically attract more women than men.

“Interest in flexible work was growing before Covid-19 before accelerating over the past year and now that the vaccine program offers hope of a jobs recovery it remains to be seen how employers respond to these changes and address widening inequalities.”

It comes as some 35% of women in the UK have faced discrimination amid COVID-related job loss, promotion loss or pay cuts, according to global consumer research platform Pipslay.

The ongoing pandemic not only “threatens to slow down this global movement but may also reverse any significant progress made so far, it said. Pipslay polled a total of 6,076 people nationwide from 21 to 23 February 2021, comprising 52% women and 48% men.

The data found that 42% of people felt women had been more at a disadvantage of losing their job than men in the pandemic, while 58% believed the ongoing situation makes it harder for women to get back similar opportunities.

Almost half (45%) of Brits fear that the current health crisis will further widen the existing gender pay gap, while 70% believe companies must have work policies that enable equal parenting.

WATCH: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?