#FlexibleFirst Campaign Why #FlexibleFirst Last Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Studies now show when organisations offer genuine, two way flexible working in all its forms, this directly reduces the Gender Pay Gap. What’s more, a decade of UK macroeconomic and survey data, our case studies developed with highly experienced WACL leaders, and our collective experience of working during lockdown, have all served to show that flexible working has benefits for everyone, regardless of gender. 

What #FlexibleFirst means for organisations

WACL is campaigning for flexible working practices to be adopted as an industry standard, leading with our call for organisations in media, marketing and communications to commit to being #FlexibleFirst. 

Our aim is to provide an industry standard for flexible working. A summary of what WACL #FlexibleFirst means below:

WACL Flexible First Campaign

Advertising 100% of jobs as flexible;

Ensuring the company culture and governance are in place to advocate for and support every form of flexible working; 

Understanding and communicating the business and people benefits of genuine, two-way flexibility;

Ensuring employee learning & development programs are in place; 

Investing in designing jobs that deliver two-way flexibility;

Measuring and reporting the impact of flexible working on your organisation (for example productivity, performance, potential, recruitment, retention and resilience);

In the spirit of deeds not words, let’s turn the page on the old ways of working, set aside old biases about where and when employees work, and advocate for the long term flexible working environments we know are win: win for employees and companies alike. 


What #FlexibleFirst is not: 

Claiming to be a panacea, nor is it a single, binary solution that ignores the reality of our working lives. 

We work in creative and collaborative cultures that thrive when we get together in person; when working flexibly, we also know that the lines between work and home can blur to a detrimental effect if we don’t put parameters in place to prevent this. 

#FlexibleFirst is about redressing the balance from the default culture of full-time, in-office working, to one that offers choice. For some, we imagine the optimum approach will be a blend: working flexibly – in a variety of ways (not just ‘working from home’) to suit the needs of the employee and employer alike –  alongside time spent in the office. Employers of choice are going further, however: ensuring their flexible working policies and cultures can ‘flex’ to help close the Gender, Ethnicity and Disabled Pay Gaps, and truly work for everyone.

The argument for #FlexibleFirst organisations

How Flexible working helps close the Gender Pay Gap

Offering flexible working in all its forms (see fig 1) allows more women into the workforce in the first place and creates the conditions for them to stay in work for longer. This gives them the opportunity to progress and earn more money by taking on more senior roles, ultimately to leadership and board level positions where the gap has always been at its worst.

When everyone’s remuneration is based upon output, not time spent in the office, more women aren’t just attracted to senior positions, they must be paid the same; helping to close the Gender Pay Gap and accelerating gender equality in the process.

Flexible working, defined

“Working arrangements which allow employees to vary the amount, timing or location of their work.”

Flexible working encompasses:
Part time / Flexi-time / Home or remote working / Job sharing / Compressed hours / Annualised hours / Term-time working / Varied-hours / Time banking / Structured time off in lieu

Sources: Lilian M. De Menezes & Clare Keljiher, Flexible Working and Performance: A Systemic Review of the Evidence for a Business Case, 2011 and House of Commons briefing paper on Flexible Working, October 2019

Fig 1. Flexible working, defined

By way of evidence,  quantitative macroeconomic modeling conducted in August 2020 by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that “both the change in social norms and the increase in job flexibility play a quantitatively important role in narrowing the gender wage gap.” Both the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Government Equalities Office also cite improving flexible working as a key action to help close the gender pay gap, alongside related factors such as evaluating criteria for recruitment, development, and promotion. And finally, research conducted amongst working mothers in 2017 found a direct link between flexible working and reducing the Gender Pay Gap:

“Women who were able to use flexitime were only half as likely to reduce their working hours after the birth of their child. In the overall sample, more than half the women reduced their working hours after the birth of their child, but less than a quarter of the women who were able to use flexitime reduced their hours, with similar results for women who were able to work from home if they wanted to. This shows that, given the chance to work flexibly, many women would stay in work and maintain their hours and their pay after having children.”

Chung, H. & van der Horst, M. (2018) Women’s employment patterns after childbirth and the perceived access to and use of flexitime and teleworking. Human Relations 71(1): 47-72)

How flexible working has benefits for everyone

What’s more, the context of a global pandemic has shown us once and for all that when organisations commit to flexible working practices this can in fact have benefits for everyone; indeed that the chance to work flexibly can be nothing short of essential to businesses and men and women alike. 

A House of Commons Women & Equalities Committee report (2016) focuses on making the case for flexibility as having benefits for all: “The advantage of flexible or agile working is that it can benefit all employees, men and women, as well as employers. At the same time, it presents a useful solution to the problem of the part-time pay penalty, which contributes to the gender pay gap.”

Amplified by our experiences of lockdown, a decade of UK historical data and our own WACL leaders’ case studies already support a robust case for the benefits of flexible working:

Unlocking Productivity, Performance and Potential
Fig 2 Unlocking Productivity, Performance and Potential
Fig 3 Improving Recruitment, Retention and Resilience
Fig 3 Improving Recruitment, Retention and Resilience

Alongside this, CMI and Timewise survey data tells us that this is simply what people want and expect: 

  • 93% of managers said it was important for them that an employer offered blended working in the future (CMI Managers Voice Poll June 2020)
  • 87% of men and women want to work flexibly, yet 35% are either unaware or don’t feel their organisation offers the flexibility they need, and only 15% of jobs are advertised as flexible, dropping to 12% in the advertising, marketing and PR industries (Timewise Flexible Jobs Index 2019 & Morgan McKinley’s 2019 working hours and flexible working).

In short, the long term business case, the recent positive shifts in perception and the removal of stigma around flexible working post lockdown, combined with the looming reality of a she-depression, not just a she-cession, means the time to act is now.

By ensuring there is an industry-standard in place for flexible working, WACL intends to guide and encourage organizations to commit to making this shift, armed with the knowledge that flexible working can be business performance-enhancing, helps close the Gender Pay Gap and is ‘culture-add’, with benefits for everyone.