• Anya Smirnova

The missing link in flexible working

Updated: 3 days ago

By law, all employees have the right to make a flexible working request if they’ve worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks, and employers must look at the request fairly.

Employers and in particular HR know about this. Talking to HR about flex work is like preaching to the converted, flex-work helps to hire and to retain the best talents. Mums and dads are tempted to work flexibly. The pandemic has expanded the mindset on flexibility and remote working. Still, many working mums are convinced that flex work is not a possibility for them. It really makes me sad. These are some examples of concerns women share:

  • I don't have anyone in my team who is on a flexible schedule. I am glad to work from home while the pandemic lasts, I don't feel I can ask for more.

  • I asked for some flex work, but not what I ideally wanted. I just don't think my line manager would have accepted my real needs.

  • I work in a male-dominated industry and I have seen first hand how women who have tried flex work and job share have been negatively treated.

  • My bosses are C-level executives. When they want something they expect you to be there and available to them.

This happens in companies where HR and Recruitment teams are keen to build their diversity of employees in both gender and race. Good employers know that offering roles that fit flexibly around family life, opens the floodgates to a much wider pool of talent or retaining existing talent. A 2020 study by Zurich (a global insurance company), backed by the UK Government Behavioural Insights Team offers a glimpse of post-pandemic future if more employers promote flexible working hours. After offering all jobs as flexible, Zurich saw a 20% leap in women applying for senior roles and a double increase in job applications by both male and female applicants. So I'm conducting research on this and I need your help. My hypothesis is that there are three key players in negotiating flexible working:

  • Mum,

  • her line manager, and

  • the company's HR,

and these three players make the corners of a triangle, with the sides of the triangle showing lines of communication - Mum to HR, Mum to line manager etc. If one of these communications is missing or malfunctioning, flexible working is not practically available in the organisation. I am investigating each of these links to see what fears and powers each player has that affect the flexible working culture.

If you are a mum, HR or manager (even if don't have the "manager" in the title, but you have subordinates, eg you are a senior lawyer/director/VP/partner), please email me back your answers to these questions:

  • Which hats do you have? Mum, HR, manager - you might have more than one.

  • Do you feel that you can have a candid conversation with the other two players? E.g. if you speak from a mum's perspective, can you have a candid conversation with your line manager and your HR?

  • In your workplace, what practices do you have that support flex work requests? E.g. an invitation to consider flex work, a clear flex work application process.

  • And which approaches or practices hinder flex work applications? E.g. there is a unspoken understanding that flex work is detrimental to the business operations.

This is for my background research and I will never include any personal information without your permission. Once I have the results, I will compile them in three articles, taking the view of each stakeholder - HR, line manager and women. If you can, forward this email to other female colleagues, line managers and HR.


I've been coaching working mums on life & career goals since 2015. It is a really rewarding experience, with strong client feedback and positive results. If you or someone in your network would benefit from support & motivation, get in touch as I continue to offer one free discovery coaching session each week. The sessions can help you process your feelings, find clarity and confidence, and determine your next steps.

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