New Close the Gap research finds flexible working regulations aren't making work more flexible for women

In 2010, the UK Government extended the right to request flexible working regulations to all employees. Close the Gap’s new research, Flexible Working for All?, looks at the availability and uptake of flexible working in Scotland between 2010 and 2015 to identify whether this regulatory change has resulted in increased flexible working across Scotland’s labour market.

The research reveals that it has had very little impact on the uptake of flexible working, women’s access to flexible working specifically, and therefore gender equality at work more broadly.

The key findings include:

  • The use of formal flexible working in Scotland has changed very little over the period of the study.
  • There was some change in the use of individual forms of flexible working; small increases in the use of home working (4.0% to 4.9%) and flexi-time (12.0% to 12.3%) for which there is a broadly even gender split. However, there were small decreases in the use of job sharing (3.8% to 2.7%) and term-time working (1.7% to 1.1%) which are significantly more likely to be used by women than men.
  • Part-time work continues to be much more likely to be used by female parents than male parents, with little sign of change.
  • Less than three-quarters (70%) of Scottish employees indicated that they had formal flexible working available at their workplace, even after the extension of the right to request.
  • Over half of employees felt that they have access to informal flexibility however a fifth (20%) of employees indicated that neither informal nor formal flexibility was available at their workplace.

Summary of findings on increases and decreases to different types of flexible working

These findings reaffirm what we already know about the limitations of the right to request regulations. Employees have to be in their job for six months before making a request which creates a barrier to women looking to move to a new job. This is compounded by the very low proportion of jobs that are advertised as being available for flexible working; only 12% of jobs paying more than £20,000 are advertised as having flexible working options. This particularly affects women returning to work after taking time out to care and those who hold a series of fixed term contracts. Also, the eight business reasons employers can use to justify a refusal are very broad, so it’s relatively easy to refuse a request if there is a wider cultural resistance to flexible working.

This new research comes at an important time as the UK Government this week announced plans to consult on changes to the law which would improve transparency around employer policies on flexible working, and introduce a requirement for employers to consider advertising all jobs as flexible.

The business and economic cases on flexible working are clear; employers that enable their staff to work flexibly have access to a more diverse pool of talent, are able to retain key people, see their business become more productive. We therefore make a number of recommendations to employers in the report which aim to tackle a range of barriers to flexible working including:

Read the full report Flexible Working for All?.

Reading roundup - May/June

What a busy few months we’ve had! We supported the #KidsCantWait campaign and called for early implementation of the family income supplement, our Still Not Visible research was supported by MSPs, and our Policy Manager, Lindsey Millen graced the pages of Third Force News to school us all on the gender pay gap. Don’t worry if, like us, time has run away from you; we’ve curated a selection of the essential reading on women and the labour market from the last two months.

Shetland Islands Council announced their participation in Close the Gap’s world leading employer accreditation programme Equally Safe at Work.

Women’s incomes were disproportionately affected by changes in pension credit entitlement.

Job design and workplace culture increase the propensity of women working part time.

Holyrood magazine gave us a whistle-stop tour of the gender pay gap (with expert contribution from our Director, Anna Ritchie Allan).

The Investment Association issues warnings to 100 companies for failing to diversify their boards.

Scottish schools still have large gender gaps in subject choice, which fuels occupational segregation.

TUC research shows BME and LBT women are more likely to be sexually harassed at work.

Glasgow City Council were criticised for making deductions to equal pay claim awards.

A third of BME workers have been told to anglicise their names at work.

The undervaluing of “women’s roles” makes it hard to tackle occupational segregation in education.

The gender pay gap cannot be explained away by child rearing; women earn less than men from the beginning of their careers.

A new Unison report explores sexual harassment in the NHS.

Minority ethnic communities, women and disabled people still experience worse rates of unemployment in Scotland.

Call for participants: Research on managing paid work with caring roles

Would you be interested in taking part in research which will expand the evidence base on the gender pay gap in Scotland?

Close the Gap is working with a PhD student at University of Manchester, Joanna Wilson, whose work is focused on Scotland's pay gap. Joanna is just about to start her field work and is recruiting interview participants to discuss how the level of workplace flexibility affects the unpaid caring they do. Joanna is looking to speak to both women and men, and is particularly interested in speaking to those in non-managerial jobs and self-employed. She would also like to speak to Black and minority ethnic people.

Participants will receive a shopping voucher as a thank you for their time.

Find out more about what's involved here.

Close the Gap’s new research finds three-quarters of BME women have experienced racism, discrimination and bias at work


At a conference last week, we launched our new research Still Not Visible: Research on Black and minority ethnic women’s employment in Scotland.

Providing an important insight into the lived experiences of BME women at work in Scotland, the research captures data on key aspects of employment across recruitment, development and workplace culture.

The key findings include:

  • Almost three-quarters of respondents reported they had experienced racism, discrimination, racial prejudice and/or bias in the workplace.
  • 47% of respondents believing they had experienced racism, discrimination, racial prejudice, and/or bias when applying for a job.
  • 42% of respondents indicated they had experienced bullying, harassment or victimisation because they are a BME women.


BME women reported that they face many forms of overt racism, discrimination and implicit bias including colleagues giving them a nickname or alternative name that was seen as ‘easier to pronounce’, or being subject to stereotypical assumptions about the type of work or position they would hold, for example presuming they are a secretary or cleaner.

Despite this, just over half (52%) of respondents who had experienced racism, discrimination or harassment in the workplace said they did not report it and of those who did report, less than a quarter were satisfied with how their complaint was handled.

Reasons for not reporting included feeling that their line manager would not support them; feeling it would not make a difference; a belief that their complaint would not be kept confidential; and a belief that reporting would make things worse. This highlights critical failings in current reporting mechanisms and suggests poor employer equalities practice.

Caring roles also emerged as a key barrier to the labour market for BME women, with 62% of respondents specifying that their caring roles have affected their ability to do paid work. BME women also face additional barriers to accessing affordable, accessible and appropriate childcare with a third of respondents saying that a lack of cultural diversity, specifically, the under-representation of BME women among childcare staff, and a lack of cultural sensitivity in service delivery would prevent them from using paid-for childcare services.



The conference was a great opportunity to explore the issues raised by the research and to turn our attention to what should happen next. Kaliani Lyle, former Independent Race Equality Adviser to the Scottish Government, chaired the event and conference speakers included the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn MSP. We also held a panel discussion with wide-ranging expertise across academia and the third sector including Dr Ima Jackson (Glasgow Caledonian University), Carol Young (Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights) and Satwat Rehman (One Parent Families Scotland).

Discussion highlighted that tackling BME women’s inequality in employment had the potential to reduce BME people’s higher levels of poverty and inequality in housing. The public sector equality duty came in for criticism for failing to realise transformative change for BME women. Jamie Hepburn reiterated the Scottish Government’s commitment to reviewing the duties, with a view to making changes.

Establishing race- and gender-competence among employers and policymakers was viewed as critical, ensuring that data and policies can be analysed, designed and developed with a gender- and race-sensitive lens.

A poignant comment at the conference was that it feels as though we are constantly retelling the story of BME women’s inequality, but it’s now time to change the ending.