Creating equality in caring roles

Charlotte Woodworth on how employers can show they care 

Around the world, progress on gender equality seems freshly challenged, with the ongoing skewed impact of the pandemic and now the knowledge that women and girls will be among some of the worse affected by the situation in Ukraine.  

Against this backdrop, it can be hard to see what opportunities there are to press for change and move to a better future. But Business in the Community’s (BITC) new campaign, Who Cares? seeks to do just that. The goal of greater equality is something we must not lose sight of, even now, and some of the ongoing tumult, in the working world in particular, heralds new opportunities to drive progress.  

This year we are calling on businesses across our network and beyond to transform how we think about combining paid work and caring responsibilities.  

We are revealing the results of one of the largest surveys of contemporary experiences of combining paid work and care, conducted in partnership with Ipsos. The findings are startling, highlighting a clear gap between contemporary needs and attitudes and the realities that many people experience when trying to engage in work.  

A fairer and more equitable society where everybody who wants or needs to can care shouldn’t be rocket science

The research, from Ipsos UK for BITC, revealed that 6 in 10 women with caring responsibilities have found they can’t apply for a job or promotion because of the challenge of combining paid work with their other responsibilities (and 2 in 10 men with caring responsibilities said the same thing). Half of carers from a Black, Asian, Mixed Race or other ethnically diverse background report the same, and 1 in 3 have left or have considered leaving a job due to a lack of flexibility. And while flexibility is key for working carers, more than 50% of people would not feel comfortable asking to work flexibly when applying for a job.  

These worrying trends come at an extremely high cost, undermining gender equality at work (and beyond), impacting other groups’ inclusion and progress at work, and denying different groups equitable access to care. But this isn’t just bad for individuals, families and wider society. Pushing some groups down and out of the workforce means less diverse businesses, which we know undermines profitability.  
Fixing things will not happen overnight, but there are some clear levers employers and policy makers can pull to make a difference.

Consider caring the norm, not the exception
As part of this tackle unequal access to care, making sure policies and working culture promote this agenda, are transparent and widely published, and reflect what working carers say they need – flexibility is key.  
Champion equitable access to care for all genders
The research found most people think caring isn’t the preserve of one gender, but most organisations’ policies around parenting would have you think this was the case. Changing this means equalising parental leave where you can and taking steps to level up where you can’t.  
Foster a culture that supports men to care
Supporting women to ‘have it all’ will only get the change so far, there is need to enable more men to play a key role in caring, which the research tells us they would like but can’t always access in reality.  
Specifically support men to work flexibly
It’s key to sharing care, but it is mainly women that do it. Making flexible working more widespread will help address the skewed way women carry the bulk of these responsibilities but will also go some way to addressing the stigma that can cause part-time and other ‘different’ workers to be penalised.  
Creating a more equal working world and a fairer and more equitable society where everybody who wants or needs to can care shouldn’t be rocket science. It takes effort, determination, and employers who are prepared to embrace change in the knowledge that this also makes good business sense. But if not now, when? 

Charlotte Woodworth is gender equality campaign director at Business in the Community



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