Unlike lots of people on employability programmes most women don’t have a barrier to working. Most women want to work but can find it difficult due to having external considerations such as caring responsibilities for children or relatives. Women can quite often experience breaks in their work patterns too which means there can be gaps in their skills and training and they can struggle with their confidence due to being away from the workplace for a length of time.
Here are 10 things you should be aware of and some suggestions for how to support women into employment:
1. Importance of flexible working – Caring for children, even in the 21st century, is still mainly women’s work. So Mothers with younger children often want to work part-time, term-time and are not willing to travel far because time spent travelling takes time out of working or caring. Part of the job of employability staff is to encourage parents to be flexible about the flexible work they want. Looking at working perhaps full time for two days, weekend or evening work, or even overnight.
Most parents who want to work will need to consider before or after school activities and work out what they want to do in the holidays. Sharing care within their own family, with other families as well as formal care is part of the patchwork people need to put together. Other caring responsibilities fall particularly on women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. 1 in 4 women aged 50-64 has caring responsibilities for older or disabled loved ones. Women aged 45-54 are more than twice as likely as other carers to have reduced working hours as a result of caring responsibilities. Women are also more likely to be ‘sandwich’ carers – caring for young children and elderly parents at the same time.
Carers UK research on sandwich carers and the workplace showed that women were four times more likely than men to have given up work because of multiple caring responsibilities. It helps for Advisers to understand this and appreciate the need for women who have caring responsibilities to be in employment that allows them to be flexible.
2. Effective signposting – Many women who are looking for work on employability programmes are lone parents. There are around 2million lone parents in the UK and around 90% are women1. Lone Parents make up 11% of JSA claimants and those on income support in UC areas must get ready for work once their youngest child is three.
For women who have recently become lone parents it can be a scary time for them and they need to know they are not alone and they can get help from a range of support groups for advice and to share their experiences. Gingerbread.org.uk provides expert advice and practical support and is a good place to start.
3. Promote the benefits of working – There are many reasons why women should be encouraged to work. Work helps to build self-worth and self- esteem, offers personal and financial independence, the opportunity to lead by example and a sense of fulfilment. Women need support to stretch their imaginations about what they CAN do. They need to understand that even though working 10am – 2pm fits in with their family life they should explore all their options and try to make provisions in order to reap the benefits of a more fulfilling career.
4. Practicalities of working – The cost of housing is an issue for everyone now and the benefits cap has added to the problem for many people. There is a lot of work that can be done to help support people who want to stay where they want to live but they need to also understand that sometimes this is not possible if they really can’t afford to live there. Looking at in-work benefits and whether the customer would be better off working can be an incentive to help support them into work.
5. Understand the pitfalls – Now with Universal Credit women need help to understand where they stand with regards to their benefits if they do start work. The issues around Universal Credit waiting times can create a huge problem for women, especially if they have young dependents. They need to know that any in-work benefits they receive will enable them to pay for childcare and other associated costs of working such as travel and clothes. Using a benefits calculator such as Policy in Practice’s Benefit and Budgeting Calculator or the Turn2us online calculator can help women to find out what they are entitled to but they need to factor in what would happen if their benefits are delayed.
6. Help them to be prepared – Some parents worry about how they will fit everything in, there are still only 24 hours in a day! Help them to understand that though they will need to organise some things differently, they will likely find that they actually get more done when they go back to work. Practical timesaving tips from parents can help.
7. Improve employability skills – Many women have been away from the workplace for quite some time if they have had more than one child. This can often present a practical issue that their skills, knowledge and training is just not up to scratch. Rather than just take the first job they are offered or seek low-level employment, women need to feel supported to seek a job they actually want to do and then look at the skills they need to achieve it. Taking the wrong job can be traumatic if it doesn’t work out and can severely affect a person’s motivation.
8. Build confidence and self-esteem – When someone’s been away from the workplace for a long time it can have a damaging effect on their confidence which in turn affects motivation to work as they feel it’s just too difficult and that they lack what it takes to get a job. Women need to see that if they’ve had children and brought up a family then they can certainly manage a job and they need to understand that the skills they have gained as mothers are incredibly useful and transferrable.
There are significant skills and talents that women can bring to the workplace. Women are notoriously proficient in multi-tasking, they typically have strong nurturing skills suited to personal and team development; they do better in achieving qualifications and they are extremely good at adapting to change. Women should be valued, nurtured and supported to reach their own independent goals in life of which employment can play a key role. They need to analyse their skills, needs, strengths and passion to help them find out the relevant information they need to seek the job that is right for them, their family and their future.
9. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong – Many people on unemployment programmes can be reflectors, they worry about what might happen. Most women are quite pragmatic and good at getting what they need for themselves and their families. This is a strength and they should be encouraged to take risks but they should be supported in doing so. The best way to do this is for them to speak to other people who have taken risks and learned from their experiences. Group sessions and motivational training programmes are a great way to do this and to help women build support networks with people in a similar position to them.
10. Engaging employers – Most people have some barriers to employment but its providing solutions to those barriers and then communicating those solutions to the right employers that matters. Employers need to be properly engaged and Advisers need to broker professional employer relationships to overcome barriers and promote the benefits of employing women. Making jobs that actually appeal and work well for women should be a priority in the millennium age.
It is in everybody’s interests to create an environment for people to be able to combine family and caring roles with work that helps them thrive as a unit. Whilst the gig economy and zero contract hours enables flexibility not all employers offer these terms and, often they can be poorly paid with no guaranteed income. Women should be made aware of all of their employment options and even consider self-employment so they can decide what works best for them.
1 and 2 ONS (2016) Families and households, 2016. Table 1.