A new survey reveals that a sizeable number of working mothers do not receive the flexibility they request at work. 

According to new research conducted by the TUC and campaigner Mother Pukka, working mothers are being denied the opportunity to work flexibly, despite the seismic changes to working practices over the last year.

In the survey, many women told the TUC they are put off asking for flexible working.

Over two in five (42 per cent) said they were worried about their employers’ negative reaction while a similar number believed there was no point asking as it would just be turned down (42 per cent).

It appears that these fears were not unfounded as a further one in two working mothers (50 cent) reported that their current employer had indeed rejected or only accepted part of their flexible working request.

However, of the working mothers who did manage to get flexible arrangements, well over four in five (86 per cent) reported being discriminated against because of this.

The TUC stated that the “current system is broken”, criticising the number of people who get flexible working requests turned down by their employers.

Instead, the body urged employers to consider all forms of flexible working, outside of homeworking, and maintained that there are no jobs where all forms of flexible working should be ruled out.

This problem even reaches back into recruitment stages where over two-fifths of women (42 per cent) feel uncomfortable asking about flexible working in a job interview because they thought they would be discriminated against.

As such, working mothers reported that helpful adjustments to promote flexible working could include:

  • The Government mandating employers to advertise flexible working in job ads – with the successful candidate having the right to take up this flexibility from their first day at work.
  • Including the specific types of flexible working available in the advert.
  • The Government giving all workers the right to flexible working from day one in the job.

This comes as the Government recently announced a change to the law which will permit employees to request flexible working from day one in a job.

However, although employers have a duty to review the requests made in a “reasonable manner”, the decision on whether to grant flexible working is ultimately left to the discretion of the employer.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, criticised this, stating “employers still have free rein to turn down requests for flexible working”:

There is overwhelming support for mums and all working parents to be able to work flexibly to manage their work and caring commitments.

It’s time to make flexible working the norm as we emerge from the pandemic. It’s the best way to keep women in work and to close the gender pay gap.

But the current system is broken. Employers still have free rein to turn down requests for flexible working. And women are too scared to ask for flexible working at job interviews, for fear of being discriminated against.

Ministers need to do more than just tinker with a flawed system. They need to change the law so that all jobs are advertised with flexible options clearly stated, and all workers have the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.

*The TUC and Mother Pukka survey ran from 19 August-26 September 2021 and had 12,855 responses from working mums.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.