Home News & eventsNews 2 in 5 working mothers feel they are held back from promotion, but many parents and carers say pandemic has improved workplace culture

2 in 5 working mothers feel they are held back from promotion, but many parents and carers say pandemic has improved workplace culture

Published: 10 Oct 2021

New polling, carried out to mark the start of National Work Life Week (Oct 11–15), shows a wide gulf in how parents and carers are managing to balance their work and home lives as we come out of the pandemic. Outdated cultures and practices still hold sway in many workplaces around the UK. We found: 

  • 41% of working mothers say being a parent is holding them back from promotion at work. 50% of those with additional caring responsibilities for a sick, elderly or disabled family member said the same. 
  • Over a third (38%) said that the people who work the longest hours are the most respected by senior leaders in their organisation 
  • Nearly half (44%) of working parents disagreed that the senior leaders in their organisation are positive role models for achieving a good work-life balance. 

But it’s not all bad news. In fact, many working parents and carers feel that the pandemic has brought some positive changes. We found: 

  • 41% of working parents say that the pandemic has had a positive impact on workplace culture at their organisation  
  • Half of working parents (50%) say open conversations about wellbeing and mental health are more accepted at work now than they were before the pandemic, rising to 61% for carers 

These positive changes bring with them a concern that their benefit will only be temporary: over a third (36%) of working parents, and almost half (48%) of carers say now that lockdown is over, they are concerned taking time off for caring needs will be frowned upon at work 

National Work Life Week, shines a spotlight on what employers can do to help parents and carers get a healthy balance between their work life and home life. Each year we see organisations from all sectors and sizes take the opportunity to focus on the wellbeing of their teams and celebrate good ideas and innovations. And there’s a lot to celebrate: over half of parents (54%) say their organisation supports parents and people with caring responsibilities effectively. 

This year, our polling shows just how important a strong focus on wellbeing is for employers as well as the individuals who work for them: 85% of working parents agree that work-life balance is a top priority and say that it will influence their next choice of job. Employers who want to attract the best and most diverse talent need to sit up and take note if they are to appeal to, and retain, employees who have caring responsibilities. 

We’re encouraging all employers to: 

  • Make sure that the culture of the organisation, and the performance management process used, values and rewards outputs, rather than focusing on hours worked or place of work, and actively discourage presenteeism 
  • Make sure they’re providing training specifically for line managers in how to support parents and carers, and how to get the best from teams working in a variety of flexible ways 
  • Actively work to raise awareness of wellbeing and mental health in your staff teams, and have a range of support available for staff to access 
  • Become a Working Families Employer Member  

Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, said: 

“It’s depressing to see that – in 2021 – so many women still find that being a parent stops them getting promoted at work. Half of people caring for another family member find their caring responsibilities do the same. So much talent and so many diverse perspectives are being lost because too many businesses can’t move past outdated workplace cultures.  

“While increasingly high numbers of managers and leaders recognise the benefits of family-friendly ways of working, there are still pockets of resistance across sectors. But the experience of the pandemic has speeded up a shift in how many of us want to work, and those resisting positive change will find it comes back to bite them: 85% of working parents told us that they would prioritise work life balance when looking for their next role. Faced with a choice between an employer who puts effort into employee wellbeing and one that celebrates unhealthy working practices, I think we can all guess where the best and brightest talent is going to go. 

“We take great heart from the fact that the pandemic has led to positive change in many organisations, and conversations about mental health and wellbeing are more accepted than they were. And we know from our work with our employer members that so many organisations are going above and beyond in implementing progressive policies – and reaping the rewards of that in productivity, retention and morale. This National Work Life Week, we want to encourage employers to build back from COVID with increased focus on helping their teams get the balance between work and home right, and use it as an opportunity to have some open conversations with their employees about the change they want to see.”

Read the National Work Life Week 2021 briefing