How Being A Carer-Friendly Workplace Will Help You Close Your Gender Pay Gap

CGP 3 | Career Friendly Workplace

The demands of full-time work and balancing that with caring responsibilities can be extremely difficult.

In this episode, we explore:

  • The scale and impact of caring for elderly relatives on top of a full-time job
  • The working definition of a working carer
  • The challenges that working carers face
  • How this will be affecting your gender pay gap
  • What you can do to become a carer-friendly employer so that this doesn’t have a negative impact on your gender pay gap.

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How Being A Carer-Friendly Workplace Will Help You Close Your Gender Pay Gap

In this episode, I would like to explore with you how your working carers are affecting your gender pay gap and what you can do to support those carers in order to close your gender pay gap. The impact of COVID-19 and with more and more of us working from home on a permanent basis means that for the first time, many employers have gained much more of an understanding of how many of their employees do have caring responsibilities. I’m not talking here about those of us who are caring for children. Typically, we already know whether or not someone has got childcare responsibilities in our team or department. What I’m talking about are those people who have got caring responsibilities for elderly relatives and how this can affect your gender pay gap in ways that you might never even have thought about.

Having autonomy and power of flexibility in people’s working hours with caring responsibilities is valuable.

Before we look at what you can do to support those working carers, let’s first of all start by looking at the scale and impact of this across the UK. From that, you can extrapolate how this is likely to be affecting your workforce and how many of your workforce it is likely to be affecting. According to Carers UK, 6.5 million people in the UK are carers. Of those, approximately 40% are caring for a parent or a parent-in-law, 4% are caring for a grandparent and 7% for another relative, perhaps an uncle or a sister. If your carer is aged between 45 and 64, typically, these are the people who are going to be your senior leaders. They’re very likely to be caring for someone living elsewhere. For example, an elderly parent who is still living in their own home or sheltered housing.

What the NHS tells us is that 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 have dementia, which adds on another whole complex layer to the caring responsibility. For about 72% of our working carers, that care that they provide, whether that’s a few hours a week or a day, that’s on top of full-time paid work. During the pandemic, during the research published during National Carers Week by Carers UK, we discovered that 72% of those working carers have not had a break at all during the pandemic. As you would expect, more of these carers are likely to be women than men.

Definition Of Working Carers

Working carers are people who work and have caring responsibilities. Throughout this episode, I’m focused specifically on those working carers who are caring for an elderly relative. There are two ways that this tends to happen. We have the gradual onset as a parent becomes more and more dependent, needing more medical care, less able to care for themselves and that gradually increases over time. You find yourself spending more and more time looking after that parent or going around to help them. We have a sudden onset that will follow an accident, illness or bereavement. I would like to share two stories that will give you an example of each of these scenarios.

CGP 3 | Carer Friendly Workplace
Career Friendly Workplace: Supporting the carers by promoting an open culture and providing training is essential.

“At the start, mom’s care needs were mainly physical and I would pop in once or twice a week, then she was diagnosed with dementia, too. It got harder on top of a long working week too. I even moved house so I could be nearer. There was no time left for me. Mom was no longer independent, but she didn’t want to go into a home.” In the second story, “I got the call you dread on New Year’s Eve. ‘It’s the London Ambulance Service. It’s your father. There’s nothing that can be done. We’re sorry.’ He was 85. It was a good age, but he had been full-time care of his wife with advanced dementia. My life turned upside down overnight because I couldn’t leave her. Carers were coming in three times a day to care for her, but it wasn’t enough. I ended up finishing my contract a month early to be able to cope.” That story is my personal story. It’s why I’ve got such a keen interest in how we support our caring workers, but also the impact that this is having on an organization’s gender pay gap.

Let’s look at what we mean by working carers. The working definition that was developed by Employers For Carers doesn’t include those individuals who are employed as a professional carer or whose caring role relates solely to a child or to children. When we talk about working carers, we’re talking about the people who are responsible for the care and support of relatives or friends, who are older, disabled or seriously ill, whether that’s physically or mentally and therefore unable to care for themselves. We see a whole range of experiences, from the carer who is providing a few hours a week to the carer who is providing constant support. That carer might be at home, but as we’ve already heard, the carers may well be traveling to support someone in their own home.

What we see is we have periods of high and low demand, depending on the health of that individual person that we’re caring for and the tasks that we’re doing. It might involve personal care. It probably involves handling finances, coordinating with medical and care services, doing the cleaning, cooking or doing the shopping. It can either be a gradual process as you start to realize that your parent or parents can no longer manage on their own or more of a sudden experience following illness, accident or bereavement as it did in my case.

Who are these people who are providing this care? Let’s explore a little bit more about them. What we do know is that women, especially over the age of 40, are more likely to take on caring responsibilities than men. In fact, when we look at the statistics, 1 in 4 women aged 50 to 64 is providing care. Look at that age, 50 to 64, women over the age of 40. That there are your senior leaders, the women who are at the peak of their careers, whether they’re in engineering, project management or service delivery. We are becoming the generation of sandwich carers. We’re having children later and we’re living longer. Women are much more likely to be sandwich carers, where we’re caring for both a young child and an elderly parent. In fact, the peak age for sandwich caring is 40 to 49.

Most caring workers are women who are forced to give up work at the peak of their careers, making a huge impact on their career progression.

Juggling the demands of full-time work and balancing that with caring responsibilities can be difficult. What we see is that there is a lack of carer-friendly workplace policies. For example, paid care leave or flexible working and this combined with a lack of sufficient, high quality and affordable social care services mean an increasing number of employees. Often, these caring workers are women. They’re forced to give up work at the peak of their careers. It has a huge impact on women’s career progression, as well as on their long-term financial security and the wider economy. Therefore, it’s going to have a big impact on your gender pay gap.

We know from the research commissioned by CIPD in 2020, in collaboration with The University of Sheffield, that in England and Wales, there are 3.7 million working carers. For 72% of those carers, they’re doing that care on top of full-time paid work. However, 44% of those working carers have said that they find it hard to combine paid employment and caring responsibilities. What we see is that they experienced difficulties with concentrating at work. They tend to reduce their working hours, so they feel able to cope. They will often turn down job offers, refuse to get a promotion or might decide against applying for a new role because they’re going through and experiencing emotional and physical exhaustion with high-stress levels and feeling completely overwhelmed.

They use up their annual leave or sick time in order to provide care, which means that they have no personal free time. In fact, many of them are in danger of burning out. They will often work at the weekends to make up the hours that they might have used during a normal working week on caring responsibilities. Interestingly, from the data, we see that there was a gender difference. Twenty-five percent of men had been able to take paid leave to provide care, compared with 15% of women. Is that because women might worry about how it might be perceived or maybe it’s that they’re already using that annual leave for childcare purposes?

It affects the gender pay gap because typically, the working carers are women. They struggle to balance their caring responsibilities with work commitments because they’re doing the caring on top of full-time paid work. In fact, only 2/5 of working carers believe that their employer was carer-friendly. More than a quarter of these working carers haven’t told anybody else at work about their caring role. One of the reasons they don’t tell anybody is because they believe that nothing would change even if they did. However, if you provide carers with the support that they need, it will benefit both the carer and you as the employer because it will help to improve employee well-being, reduce absenteeism, increase employee engagement and talent retention, and help to close your gender pay gap.

It affects opportunities for women on so many levels. It means that with those women, if they’re reducing their working hours or quitting to avoid burning out, you’re starting to see a lack of females in senior roles, which means it’s making it the norm for men to be visible as the decision-makers. Therefore, it affects how many female sponsors are available in your organization to sponsor those more junior women coming up, which means we’re continuing that cycle of a lack of gender diversity and female presence in senior roles. Effectively, we’ve become stuck in a traditional and inflexible way of working. Women are being excluded from those more senior roles in higher earning potential because they have external commitments, which are equally as inflexible. Caring for children and elderly relatives are not flexible responsibilities.

CGP 3 | Carer Friendly Workplace
Career Friendly Workplace: Having more women in senior-level roles has a direct, immediate, and tangible impact on the gender pay gap. It can also act as a catalyst for a less tangible and yet positive shift in cultural change.

Having more women in senior-level roles has a direct, immediate and tangible impact on the gender pay gap, but it can also act as a catalyst for a less tangible and yet positive shift in your cultural change. Half of the working carers felt that their caring responsibilities had affected their job. Most working carers have experienced difficulty concentrating at work because of their caring responsibilities. They’re feeling mentally and physically exhausted. They’re overwhelmed, stressed and burning out. That’s why 30% of these working carers have reduced their hours of work. Thirty-six percent of them have refused a job offer or promotion, or they’ve decided against applying for jobs because of their caring responsibilities and they can’t see how they’re going to be able to balance caring with working. Twenty-nine percent of them have said they’re considering reducing their working hours and 24% are thinking of giving up their job altogether because of their caring role. This will affect your overall gender pay gap.

From the research, we know that what working carers value most is being able to use the telephone or having private time to make and receive calls. That call to the GP or social care needs to be made during a normal working day. What’s also valued is being offered counseling or well-being support through your employee assistance program, a formal policy on unpaid or paid leave for carers and signposting to external sources of support. Working carers are so overwhelmed and lacking in free time that they simply don’t have the time to find out where else they can get support, what support is available, giving them guidance on organizational support. Perhaps providing a carer’s network or forum, having carers awareness days and making use of the National Carers Week to highlight the impact that this might be having on your workforce.

What’s valuable is having autonomy and flexibility in their working hours. It’s not just the flexibility in working hours, but it’s having the autonomy and power to decide how those working hours can be flexible. Flexible working, for example, the ability to work from home on some days, having access to job share, compressed hours or annualized hours. There are barriers to support. The carers simply don’t tell in their network. They don’t tell the HR and occupational health. They might not even have told their line manager. If they have done that, they’ve often done it on an informal basis, but 28% of these working carers haven’t told anyone at work at all.

There’s a general lack of awareness of what support is available within an organization. Even if people are aware that there is support available, there’s that lack of awareness of how to access that support. These people, typically women, are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. They have very little free time. They feel like they’ve got problems associated with how they organize their work and working time. They’re worried and concerned that if they ask for support that it’s going to damage their future career prospects and so they don’t tell anyone at work, which means they’re more likely to be experiencing overwhelm, stress and potentially burnout.

Women working carers go through emotional and physical exhaustion with high levels of stress and feeling of overwhelm.

Support Of Employers

As an employer, there are some things that you can do to help and support those working carers. The first thing is to have a carer policy or at least a framework or guidance, and including that, a clear definition of what it means to be a carer. To outline the different roles and responsibilities and, importantly, to communicate what your approach is so that you start to embed a culture of support. Flexible working for everyone, but at least introduce flexible working to support working carers. Make sure that when you hire, you’re hiring flexible. Be very transparent about your flexible working practices. What can be powerful is for you to empower line managers to support flexible workers in the way that suits the team or department.

You can also support those working carers by providing carer’s leave, whether that’s paid or unpaid. The one thing you do need to be aware of with a carer’s leave is that you need to be flexible and adaptable. If somebody needs a carer’s leave or if they need to take time off, it’s likely to be in an emergency. Therefore, it’s likely to be requested at very short notice. You can also help your line managers to support the carers by promoting an open culture, being knowledgeable about your organization’s approach to supporting carers. Providing training for those people who are managing teams or departments, so they know exactly what is available, how to signpost those working carers and get engaged senior leaders in supporting carers so that you start to create a more inclusive culture.

You can also provide information and peer-to-peer support. You could think of developing an in-house support group for carers or providing information on workplace support and make sure that’s readily available for everyone. If you’re not able to provide support in-house, then at least signpost to other sources of information. These working carers, these women who are your senior leaders, are short on time to research and find out what else is available. In summary, we are the sandwich generation. Women are more likely than men to take on those caring responsibilities and be taken on those caring responsibilities on top of a full-time paid job. Working carers tend to affect women who are at the peak of their careers. These sandwich carers are typically aged between 40 and 49. 1 in 4 women, age 50 to 64, is providing care.

Those women are your senior leaders. Those are the women who are becoming stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted. They’re burning out, which means that it’s affecting their productivity, creativity and decision-making. They turn down promotions, ask for reduced hours or quit altogether, which means that you’re losing women from the top and upper-middle quarters. You’re losing your role models. That means that your gender pay gap will stagnate or even widen.

I hope you found this useful to read about how you can support your working carers and how doing that will allow you to start to close your gender pay gap. If you would like a conversation about how to support your working carer so that you can start to close your gender pay gap, please do get in touch with me at

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back very soon.

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