Time to apply flexible working to harness women’s untapped potential

Recommendations made on how to harness women's untapped potential in the workplace

Encouraging flexible working and understanding how best to support working parents in the second stage of their career is just one of the findings of a major report published today by the Women’s Business Council (WBC) on improving women’s contribution to economic growth. The WBC, which is chaired by Ruby McGregor Smith CBE, chief executive of MITIE, is an independent working group established by the government in 2012 to explore the untapped potential of the female workforce. Maximising women’s contribution to future economic growth looks into addressing the obstacles at all stages of women’s careers, such as broadening career choices, helping to access childcare and providing the necessary skills to start new businesses.

By equalising the labour force participation rates of men and women, the UK could increase GDP per capita growth by 0.5 percentage points per year, with potential gains of 10% of GDP by 2030. Yet according to the latest figures, there are over 2.4 million women who are not in work but want to work, and over 1.3 million women who want to increase the number of hours they work. To unblock this mismatch and optimise the potential for the UK’s economic growth, the report sets out a series of recommendations:

  • that there is an overwhelming business case, supported by strong evidence, for maximising women’s contribution to growth;
  • that we need to broaden young women’s aspirations and job choices before the start of their working lives by creating a partnership between schools, businesses and parents;
  • business needs to embrace the benefits of flexible working and understand how best to support working parents in the second stage of their career;
  • women in the third phase of working life offer great untapped potential;
  • there is a strong case for providing more support for women who want to setup their own businesses.

Ruby McGregor Smith CBE, chief executive of MITIE and Chair of the Women’s Business Council, said: “The work of the Women’s Business Council could not be more timely. Our recommendations are for both Government and the business community, and cover every stage of women’s working lives.

“I am passionate about making sure obstacles for women to work at different stages of their careers are removed, and UK business has a hugely important role to play in achieving this.

She added: “Now is the time for all businesses to act. Through the implementation of the WBC’s recommendations, we can unblock the talent pipeline that for so long has restricted women from reaching the most senior levels in business – and deliver long-term economic benefits for the UK.”

Karen Gill, co-founder of everywoman the specialists in the advancement of women in business, commented: “The report recognises the overwhelming business case for raising the status of women in the economic community and the council’s recommendations will hopefully facilitate positive change. However, Government and businesses can only go so far; women must also be ambitious for their careers if change is to be significant and lasting.

“We work with many organisations that have a real desire to improve their pipeline of female talent, we give them the tools and resources to do that and we work with their women encouraging them to take ownership of their career.”