‘Part-time’: not a lot of progress

I’ve always greatly valued the work of Timewise, promoting the value of jobs which do not fit the conventional full-time model. Their latest report, A Question of Time, is a useful update on people’s perceptions of part-time work: who wants it, why they want it (or don’t), how it is valued and so on. The report is based on analysis of Labour Force Survey data; an Optimum poll of 4000 workers; and some focus groups. Lots of useful information – but one glaring omission, which I’ll come to.

The issue is highly relevant to the Paula Principle because of the way being in a ‘part-time’ job impedes career progression for many women whose skills and qualifications should put them in a better position. One of the PP’s main recommendations – possibly a controversial one – was that we would not make much progress in countering the under-valuing of women’s competences until more men worked part-time, especially those in ‘career’ positions. This is a crucial component of what I called ‘reverse convergence’: rather than always expecting women to converge on male patterns we should think much more about enabling and encouraging men to adopt what are conventionally thought of as female patterns. Working part-time is probably the prime example of this, second only to sharing of childcare responsibilities.

Sadly the report shows almost zero progress, as this chart shows

Women are still more than three times as likely as men to be working part-time. And, significantly, many of the men that do work part-time do not want to be in that position. It’s not surprising that only one in five of all respondents said that working part-time did not limit career progression – 46% said it did, and a third weren’t sure.

There is an interesting, if unsurprising, age factor. Younger workers and older workers are more represented amongst part-timers: the former because they are often combining work with study, and the latter because they want to wind down a little (though of course I’d hope they’d also be thinking about studying….)

I commend the report to you. But now for the omission. There is a single sentence reference to the question of whether the binary division between full- and part-timers is helpful. Surely now of all times is the moment to challenge this binary distinction, with all its negative connotations. It would be one healthy result to emerge from the pandemic if the kick it’s given to traditional models of the full-time career translated into the demolition of the ft/pt divide. Then we might get past this:

“People in managerial and professional occupations hold a more negative view of part-time working than those in routine occupations (53% versus 36%), This finding is significant given that many managers are the ‘gatekeepers’ of part-time and flexible options.”

In short, the reverse convergence is yet to happen; and if we want to challenge the under-recognition of women’s competences, then demolishing the PT/FT division is a good place to attack.

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