Flexibility in the workplace is the key to helping women maintain their career trajectory after childbirth, new research by the University of Kent has shown.
Looking at the UK, the study highlights that it is 'the ability to take advantage of the opportunity to work flexibly that is most useful' in preventing women from dropping out of the labour market after having their first child.
The research, led by Dr Heejung Chung, of the University's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, found that women who were able to use flexitime were only half as likely to reduce their hours after the birth of their child.
This effect was especially the case for women who used flexitime prior to the birth of their child as well as after, the researchers found.
The researchers observed that more than half of women in their study sample reduced their working hours after the birth of their child, while less than a quarter of women who were able to use flexitime reduced their hours.
The study showed that it is the use of flexitime - rather than perceived access to it - that matters most. The researchers found that 'for mothers with new-borns, perceived access to flexitime in itself may not be enough to tackle the work-life balance demands they are faced with. The flexibility needs to be enacted to really make a difference'.
The research will have implications for the debate over the UK's gender pay gap, say the authors. 'Flexible working may help alleviate some of the negative consequences of the motherhood penalty, by allowing mothers to remain in human-capital-intensive jobs, which can help diminish the gender wage gap'.
Further, allowing mothers to maintain their employment status 'will have major implications for retaining human capital for companies and societies as a whole,' the authors conclude.
Women's employment patterns after childbirth and the perceived access to and use of flexitime and teleworking (Heejung Chung and Mariska van der Horst) is published in the journal Human Relations. See: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0018726717713828
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Notes to editor
Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked: 23rd in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (http://www.kent.ac.uk/about/partnerships/eastern-arc.html).
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.