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Transforming Society: our new blog for Bristol University Press and Policy Press

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new blog Transforming Society, where research, evidence and critique can create positive social change.

Our current Policy Press blog will remain as an archive of our blog pieces to date, but going forward, all new pieces will only be published on Transforming Society. We hope you will come over and join us in our new space, and continue to support us in our endeavour to help research make a difference.

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In memory of Ken Young: Founding Editor of Evidence & Policy

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Ken Young

By Annette Boaz, co-founding editor of Evidence & Policy.

Before I met Ken I hadn’t met many entrepreneurial academics.  His ability to generate interesting ideas and even better to go on to make them happen was always impressive to watch. He never let anything as inconvenient as university bureaucracy get in the way. As a result of his driving force, social science and public policy have benefited in many ways, including in the form of two leading journals: ‘Policy and Politics’ and ‘Evidence & Policy.’  Each year Policy & Politics continues to award a prize in Ken’s name.

Ken’s research career was characterised by the empirical rather than the theoretical. Throughout his career, which took in a range of leading public policy institutes including Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) at Birmingham University, the School for Advanced Urban Studies at Bristol and King’s College London, he remained committed to applied research and active engagement with policy and practice. He was as comfortable advising select committees as he was addressing his students.

Ken and I first met in 2001 when I went for an interview at the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded Centre for Evidence Based Policy and Practice at Queen Mary, University of London. Ken (and colleague Deborah Ashby) generously offered me the job and the opportunity to finally get going with my PhD research.  If it wasn’t for their encouragement and support I imagine my PhD would still be on the ‘to do’ list. Perhaps most importantly, he showed that it was possible to have an academic career which valued in equal measure excellence in teaching, research and in making a contribution through the production of knowledge.   One of his notable achievements at King’s was establishing a new Masters programme in Public Policy which continues to thrive.

Back in 2001 it wasn’t possible to get anything as glamourous as a cappuccino in Mile End where we were based and Ken had even more exotic tastes.  For me, the macchiato will always be ‘the Professor Ken Young Special’ as it was known in the Queen Mary university café.  Ken was a man of many interests.  He loved hill climbing (in vintage cars rather than on foot). My lasting image of Ken will be of him pulling into a car park in a shiny red Audi Quattro as if he had dropped in from the set of ‘A Life on Mars’.  Mainly I will remember him as a generous and humble man who lived life to the full. He will be missed by many, but he has left quite a legacy behind him. My thoughts are with Ken’s family and friends.

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Evidence & Policy is the first peer-reviewed journal dedicated to comprehensive and critical assessment of the relationship between researchers and the evidence they produce and the concerns of policy makers and practitioners. 

Read the journal on Ingenta

Brexit and domestic borders: lessons from the unspoken rules of citizenship

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Rachel Humphris

Whether you’re a leaver or a remainer it is difficult to deny Brexit has had dire consequences for race relations in the UK. Roma are no exception. Families identified as Roma have had a treacherous path to UK citizenship, often despite (or even because of) EU accession rules.

Regardless of legal migration status, many Roma in the UK have had their intimate lives laid bare and opened to scrutiny in order to assess whether they ‘deserve’ to be here. The shifting criteria of ‘deservingness’ are likely to become even more complicated – and challenging to navigate – post-Brexit. Already, the deepening consequences of austerity, with its continual outsourcing of frontline work exacerbating gaps in social support, rising fees for citizenship procedures, and increasingly complex legal statuses within the UK’s ‘hostile/compliant environment’, create bewildering constellations of regulations and processes.

My new book ‘Home-land’ shows how – in the face of regulatory incoherence – the importance of individual discretion and value judgements take centre-stage. For the Roma families I lived with over the course of a year during the lifting of EU accession regulations, the consequences were stark.

Combining first-hand research, detailed analysis and compelling individual stories, I show how apparently legal distinctions were replaced with the surveillance of intimate family relations and domestic arrangements as the criteria on which legal status and belonging was judged. For many (but especially women), their ability – or otherwise – to perform ‘deservingness’ in their own homes, could be life-changing. The book’s insights provide profound lessons for a post-Brexit, late-austerity UK, whatever Brexit may turn out to mean.

‘Home-land’ is based on extensive fieldwork with Roma families living in Luton. Luton, like many places in the UK, felt the hit of the financial crisis leading to empty shops in the high street and rising unemployment. Austerity was sharply felt in local government. Dramatic cuts to local services contrasted with increasing demand for support from residents including high unemployment, exacerbated by declining business rates. The result was the collapse of support services and NGOs. Children’s services were left to bear the brunt of supporting families, while their frontline staff had limited resource or training to deal with the complicated legal statuses of new migrants. Frontline workers tried their best, but quickly had to choose who to support – and how. Under extreme pressure from an audit culture, a habit of formal and informal ‘home visits’ (sometimes going on late into the evening) became the primary mode of engaging these families.

These home visits could put extreme stress on Roma families, already facing many personal and domestic challenges. In one example featured in ‘Home-land’, we follow a young mother called Cristina preparing for a home visit. She lives in private-rented slum housing in Luton with broken doors, windows, damp, rats and leaking roof. From the time she wakes up at 7am Cristina cleans the house. She tidies away the signs that there is another family sleeping in the downstairs room (to help her family pay the rent). She dresses herself and the children in the clothes they wear for church and she gets toys that were in a cupboard upstairs and throws them around the room, placing her children amongst them to create the ‘right kind’ of mess. When the Children’s Centre officials arrive, her demeanour changes suddenly from frantic to a show of stillness, calmness and quiet. When the women leave, she flops down onto the sofa, completely exhausted.

It was at times like this, heard many times from mothers, that they felt a strong reaction: they didn’t want people coming and looking at their kids. Who would? Mothers were afraid their children would be taken into care. Rumours ran rampant throughout families. Families could find themselves faced with the decision to move from the area with their children, or lose their children altogether. Home visits were their only source of securing support from local services; but also came with the weight of surveillance and the potential to become a site of ‘bordering’.

These stories need to be heard, and need to be thought about at all levels of policy-making and research. Already, legal migration statuses are becoming increasingly complex. Brexit seems unlikely to reverse the trend. Austerity is still biting hard; and the privatisation of services is creating complex relationships in frontline provision. Marginalised families, like the Roma in Luton, either fall through the gaps or are subject to compassionate bordering in their homes from frontline workers, who often have the best of intentions but are in a harsh and broken system. In this context, the most mundane everyday actions in the home become crucial for how families can secure a safe status in the home-land. As we prepare for troubled post-Brexit times, ‘Home-Land’ raises fundamental questions about the types of homes – and the type of home-land – we want.

Home-Land, by Rachel Humphris is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £64.00 or get the EPUB for £21.59.

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50 Facts Everyone Should Know About Crime and Punishment in Britain

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Did you know that, contrary to public belief, in the UK a life sentence does last for life? And that capital punishment in the UK was abolished for murder in 1965 but the Death Penalty was a legally defined punishment as late as 1998?

50 Facts Everyone Should Know About Crime and Punishment in Britain, written by leading experts, presents 50 key facts related to crime and criminal justice policy in Britain.

The editors James Treadwell and Adam Lynes talk about the inception of the book and what inspired them to write it in this excerpt from the introduction:

“Upon embarking on this journey of compiling facts about crime-related matters from contemporary issues in prisons to crime and its victims, a quote from one of the earliest pioneers in academic populism, Carl Sagan came to mind:

We wish to find the truth, no matter where it lies. But to find the truth we need imagination and skepticism both. We will not be afraid to speculate, but we will be careful to distinguish speculation from fact. (Carl Sagan (1980) Cosmos: a Personal Voyage, Episode 1).

Clearly, Sagan was framing this eloquent statement around the scientific pursuit for knowledge about the Universe and our place within it, and not about crime per se. This book is indeed focused on the topic of crime and criminal justice, yet Sagan’s words provide an important reminder that this assortment of ‘facts’ consists of countless voices – each trying to influence and shape how we perceive crime, criminals and its victims, while attempting not to drown and be silenced by all the others.

‘Facts’ can be myth busting or truth revealing. The term ‘fact’ can, of course, have different meanings in different contexts: a fact may sometimes have been presented as an absolute fact (a truth that is uncontested) or as a relative fact, and yet, what constitutes the parameters of truth or fact can be contested in all realms. The language of criminology and academia necessarily often deals in caveats, where estimates, approximates, averages and suggestions are cautiously preferred to grand and sweeping claims that might be proven falsehoods.

Crime is also an emotive subject, where values, morals, ethics, beliefs, views and opinions sit alongside fact. What constitutes a fact in criminology is rightly often contested. Hence we have used the term ‘facts’ here not to introduce the readers to absolute or uncontested topics, but rather to attempt to frame a broad discussion that involves 50 academics, some well established, some earlier in their careers, writing accessibly on issues on which they are knowledgeable.

The text is in many ways a provocation. It was conceived as an attempt to give readers an accessible introduction to the topics of crime and punishment in Britain today. What appears here are several discussions around crime and the criminal justice system, where the term ‘fact’ is broadly used to take accepted wisdom and then discuss that critically in a bid to get readers to think more deeply about issues. Yet how to structure this is, in and of itself, not unproblematic.

The Ministry of Justice is a ministerial department of the British government, and while historically people may have asserted that ‘British justice is the finest in the world’, the organisation of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland into separate legal systems already means that to talk of crime in Britain is problematic. That does not stop the term being used. For example, Former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer lamented in February 2018 in the Guardian that ‘British justice is in flames. The MoJ’s fiddling is criminal’ (Falconer, 2018).

Yet perhaps our first fact ought to be that British justice is problematic.

We have attempted to be accurate, presenting material so as to be clear, but the spirit of this text is one that encourages critical engagement, and to encourage the reader not to simply accept at face value what is claimed as fact. In particular, the social sciences are often presented as dealing with facts, when in reality they are a framework for interpreting, systemising and predicting future outcomes based on empirical observations…

What we do know is that, in basing the contributions here on research and data, the 50 contributing authors present facts that will give the reader a better knowledge of the contemporary place of crime and control in Britain. It will better equip you reader with imagination and scepticism, and a basic knowledge that will aid you to appraise and critically evaluate the claims you hear being made about crime. We hope you enjoy it.”

 

50 facts everyone should know about crime and punishment in Britain_FC50 Facts Everyone Should Know about Crime and Punishment in Britain, edited by James Treadwell and Adam Lynes is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £10.39.

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Valuing young people, valuing grassroots youth work

Tania and Louise

Louise Doherty and Tania de St Croix

Young people say that more youth centres would make them safer. Looking back on research for ‘Grassroots youth work: Policy, passion and resistance in practice’, Tania de St Croix and Louise Doherty argue for a renewed policy commitment to youth work as a youth-centred educational practice – one where the focus is on young people themselves, not on short-term results and pre-defined outcomes (in relation to knife crime or anything else).

When the Youth Violence Commission asked young people “If there was one thing you could change that you think would make young people safer, what would it be?”, the most popular response was the provision of more local youth centres and activities. This wish sits starkly against a backdrop of relentless cuts, closures and redundancies in the youth work sector, with council spending cut from £650 million in 2010/11 to £390 million in 2016/17 (LGA, 2018). It would be simplistic to claim that youth clubs prevent knife crime, which is rooted in a grossly unequal society and the vilification and marginalisation of working class and minority ethnic young people. Yet it has never been clearer that young people need to know they are valued; they need adults they can trust, who will challenge and support them; and they need spaces where they can build positive peer and community relations and a feeling of belonging.

There are tentative signs of a rekindling of interest in youth work amongst policy makers in England (youth policy in the UK is devolved across the four Nations). In August 2018, the Civil Society Strategy recognised “the transformational impact that youth services and trained youth workers can have, especially for young people facing multiple barriers or disadvantage”. In October 2018, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs recommended reinvestment in youth work as an educational process (not as a way of ‘fixing problems’). Meanwhile, the Labour Party have pledged to reinvest in youth services and ring-fence local budgets.

Yet, as researchers who are also experienced and qualified youth workers, we are cautious about this renewed interest in our sector. This is partly because a meaningful policy and funding commitment is yet to emerge; it is also because of a tension at the heart of youth work and its place in policy. Too often, youth work as a response to ‘crisis’ has formalised the nature of our practice, removing the elements that young people most value – its engagement with them on their own terms rather than because they are seen as ‘at risk’ or ‘risky’.

The study underpinning the book Grassroots youth work found that the threat to youth work came both from cuts and a longer legacy of neoliberal market imperatives and surveillance cultures shaping public and voluntary services. The part-time and volunteer youth workers in the study were heavily constrained by funding attached to predefined outcomes and bureaucratic monitoring systems. Crime prevention projects that required them to work alongside the police, or to identify young people ‘at risk of involvement in crime’, were particularly problematic and counter-productive, because they brought youth workers into the realm of surveillance and ‘the establishment’ in young people’s eyes. ‘Proving’ (rather than critically reflecting on) their work wasted money and effort, as they were compelled to focus on meeting immediate targets at the expense of professional judgements and long-term face-to-face practice.

Despite these challenges, the study found evidence of the survival and thriving of grassroots approaches to youth work, based on informal learning through conversations, activities and relationships, chosen by young people in their leisure time. Since the book was written, however, the cuts have continued apace; many of the workers interviewed have lost their jobs and several of their organisations have closed. The confidence of the sector has been undermined by insecurity, leading to professional migration to other fields of labour. We are now in an even more challenging and precarious situation than we were when the book was published in 2016.

Any reinvestment – whilst welcome – must recognise that youth work’s very existence as an educational and professional endeavour has been eroded. Courses for the training of professional youth and community workers have been dismantled across the country, as universities (themselves acting on market pressures) have closed courses or redirected students towards social work and targeted interventions. Staff and managers with decades of experience have been made redundant or accepted early retirement, often feeling burnt out, disillusioned and let down; many are reluctant to return. Those who remain are employed on increasingly precarious contracts, rarely on union-negotiated terms and conditions. And youth work buildings once in community ownership have been sold off to address council and voluntary sector deficits.

We don’t want these negatives to over-shadow the passion and commitment of youth workers and volunteers, operating in extremely challenging circumstances; one of the reasons for writing the book in the first place was to recognise challenges while celebrating youth work. Yet we want to emphasise that policy support for youth work must aim to rebuild the confidence and competence of the sector. It must also avoid demanding short-term results, and recognise the nature and value of youth work as a skilled practice that operates on young people’s terms, whoever they are and whatever issues they want to bring.

We are currently in the first year of a new three-year research project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, which investigates the evaluation of youth work. We are looking at how a new emphasis on ‘impact’ is shaping the everyday practice and overall provision of services; how evaluation and accountability processes are experienced on the ground; and how these mechanisms might look if they were rooted in the needs and perspectives of young people and youth workers in their local contexts. Whilst the early stages of the fieldwork are hopeful in terms of identifying youth work organisations that have survived, the shape of renewed policy interest in youth work remains unformed. Our research seeks to interact with youth workers and young people to support what could be a renaissance of the practice at a time when youth work is needed more than ever.

Grassroots youth work [FC] 4webGrassroots Youth Work by Tania De St Croix is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £19.19.

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What being happier together would actually look like

By Sam Wren-Lewis, author of The Happiness Problem: Rethinking Individual Success and Societal Progress.

You may not know it, but today is the International Day of Happiness. This celebration takes place on the 20th March every year, to coincide with the Spring Equinox, and is a modern day tradition that’s been going since 2013, after its official ratification by the UN in 2012. Each year has a different theme, with this year’s theme being “Happier Together”, encouraging people to focus on “what we have in common, rather than what divides us.”

All of which seems fair enough. After all, everyone wants to be happy, right? Happiness researchers and policymakers like to point out that many of the things that make us happy are universal and don’t cost the world – simple things such as spending time with friends and loved ones, getting outside into nature and being physically active. If only we spent more time doing these kinds of ‘happifying’ activities, and less time pursuing financial success and material goods, the world would be a better, greener, healthier and happier place.

“There are a number of serious factors that prevent people from doing the things that make them happy.”

Of course, advocates of happiness also recognise that things are not this simple. There are a number of serious factors that prevent people from doing the things that make them happy. The pressures and demands of daily life are significant. We are lucky if we can find a spare 10 minutes to do some exercise or simply sit still for a while. Busyness and productivity has become the new norm. In fact, even the suggestion that we should focus more on being happier, when we have so many other things we need to do, can seem patronising or offensive.

These concerns point towards a deeper problem with the rhetoric of happiness. Predominantly, the idea of happiness centres around getting things ‘right’ – having the perfect job, relationship, family life, body and mind. Proponents of happiness may be suggesting that we have some of our priorities wrong in this respect – it matters less how much money we have and more how are relationships are going. But they are still emphasising an ideal that is not be so easy to achieve for everyone. For those who live in genuinely threatening environments, for example, how safe is it to get outside more?

“We may all want to be happy. But we do not all face the same conditions and challenges in life.”

We may all want to be happy. But we do not all face the same conditions and challenges in life. By ignoring this fact, the ‘happiness agenda’ risks either being something trivial or something that is only relevant to the privileged few who can take on its recommendations.

This needn’t be the case, however. Instead of downplaying the different conditions and challenges we face in life, we can employ a notion of happiness that takes suffering much more seriously. The idea of happiness does not have to centre around things being just right.

Thinking about happiness can help us realise that we all face numerous challenges and difficulties, and will continue to do so. This is, ultimately, what we have in common. Things are never just right. No matter how much progress we make, we will still be insecure: vulnerable to disappointment, loss and suffering.

“The first step towards being happier together is paying more attention to the different conditions and challenges faced by people across the world.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for individual achievement and societal progress – these are good things. And there’s nothing wrong with trying to be a bit happier, on today of all days. But if we really want to be “Happier Together”, as this year’s International Day of Happiness theme encourages us to, then we must recognise that our common humanity rests on our common vulnerability. The first step towards being happier together is paying more attention to the different conditions and challenges faced by people across the world.

Interestingly, this, somewhat more depressing, way of looking at things has happiness research on its side. We are beginning to understand the psychological benefits of attitudes such as curiosity and compassion. Even if our lives are not perfect, we can pay more attention towards ourselves and our circumstances, including the things we already have. The same goes for the lives of others. Instead of trying to control people’s behaviour, or find quick fixes for all their problems, we can show them compassion and gain a deeper understanding of what they need. Although this is far from living happily ever after, I believe it is what being happier together would actually look like.

Wren-Lewis_The Happiness Problem.jpgThe Happiness Problem by Sam Wren-Lewis is available on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for £10.39.

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Why our fixation on the employment rate masks a more harmful truth

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Anthony Lloyd

The latest round of employment figures were recently released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS, 2019).  In it, the number of people in work reached a record high (32.54 million) between September – November 2018.  Furthermore, average earnings increased by 3.3%, the number of vacancies increased, and unemployment is at its lowest level since the early 1970s.  All cause for celebration.

Employment Minister Alok Sharma announced “Our pro-business policies have helped boost private sector employment by 3.8 million since 2010, and as the Resolution Foundation’s latest report shows, the ‘jobs-boom has helped some of the most disadvantaged groups find employment’, providing opportunities across society.” (BBC, 2019).  Surely, reasons to be cheerful in these turbulent times? However, we need to ask a number of critical questions about the real state of UK labour markets and the realities (and harms) associated with “employment”.

First, how accurate is the Labour Force Survey?  Our current fixation on low unemployment is a statistical construction easily rejected on closer inspection.  This sample survey of 100,000 responses categorises employment as working over one hour a week, and unemployment as actively seeking work in the past four weeks and available to start in the next two weeks.  From a low bar to one much higher.  Second, what are the conditions within work?  We clearly have no difficulty in creating jobs (or characterising forms of activity as ‘employment’) but it tells us nothing about the lived reality of (in)stability, (in)security, and experiences of work.

“We may have, statistically speaking, more people in jobs than any time in the last four decades, but there are problematic and harmful realities at play”

In my recent book, The Harms of Work: An Ultra-Realist Account of the Service Economy (Bristol University Press), I consider the reality of life in the insecure, flexible and low-paid service economy.  I observe workplaces and interview employees engaged in retail, call centres, leisure, takeaways, bar work, delivery jobs and other forms of customer-facing roles.  I examine the historical shifts in UK labour markets over recent decades to demonstrate a thorough neoliberal restructuring of working life, away from stability and security, towards competition, flexibility and profitability.  I also utilise emerging theories within ultra-realist criminology and social harm to consider the more problematic aspects of this fundamental transformation.  We may have, statistically speaking, more people in jobs than any time in the last four decades, but there are problematic and harmful realities at play in low-paid service work that are overlooked by positive employment figures.

These problems (and harms) include an absence of stability. Temporary, precarious forms of ‘non-standard’ work include zero-hour contracts and the ‘gig economy’.  Power and flexibility rest with employers, not employees, while workers struggle to plan for the week ahead, devoid of solid grounding upon which to build a life.

“Power and flexibility rest with employers, not employees, while workers struggle to plan for the week ahead, devoid of solid grounding upon which to build a life.”

There is also an absence of protection. Illegal practices such as non-payment of the mandated National Minimum Wage and unpaid ‘work trials’ exploit service economy employees.  The absence of protection also extends to mental ill health as overworked, precarious and stressed employees struggle to get by yet often shoulder the responsibility personally; if only they worked harder, if only they were less ambitious or more realistic, things would not be so bad.

Finally, the absence of ethical responsibility for each other creates problems and harms.  Management bullying, workplace cliques and the active exploitation or sabotage of colleagues pervades organisational cultures built on the neoliberal logic of competition, individualism, entitlement and display. Social relations within a competitive culture and competitive work environments increasingly reflect post-social arrangements and lead to harmful consequences.

I frame much of this behaviour and observation around a notion of ‘social harm’. That’s the prevention of recognition, positive rights and human flourishing caused by the intended and unintended consequences of the normal functioning of consumer capitalism. This system, following its own logic, reshapes organisations, cultures and subjectivities and generates a series of problematic and harmful consequences. Looking at the reality of contemporary working life and labour markets is vital; it’s no longer acceptable to continue celebrating the employment figures and the reduction in unemployment when the reality of the workplaces in which the majority of people are engaged produce such deleterious and damaging consequences.

The harms of work [FC]The Harms of Work by Anthony Lloyd is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £64.00 or get the EPUB for £21.59.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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A quiet responsibility: how mothers manage the complexities of flexible working

Zoe Young.jpg

Zoe Young

This International Women’s Day, Zoe Young, author of Women’s Work: How Mothers Manage Flexible Working in Careers and Family Life, highlights the lengths women go to in managing the complexities of flexible working.

This year marks a hundred years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 lifted the bar on women entering the professions. It meant women could no longer be kept out of rewarding careers in law, accounting, engineering, finance, medicine, and academia.

On IWD 2019 with its theme of #balanceforbetter we are asking what now needs to happen to help women stay and move up in the jobs that 100 years ago only men could do? My research published in Women’s Work in this milestone year has some answers.

Women’s Work lifts the lid on 30 professional women’s home and work lives in a year of working flexibly. They are highly educated, experienced women who have not yet reached the top of their firms. They are mothers and adjusting their jobs to something flexible in hours, schedule or location of work. The impressive resilience required to go part-time, to job share and to work from home in jobs that weren’t designed with these working models in mind are brought to life with vivid personal stories.

Jane, a senior manager and lone mother of two children cuts her full-time hours by one day a week to reduce her work-life stress; Emma, seeks “a bit of slack in the system” by carving out two half days a week to cover a gap in childcare for her youngest; Jenny a civil servant returns from first maternity leave and compresses a full-time job into fewer days; Andrea a lawyer and married mother of three children starts a new four-week job; and Esther, is a mother of two and, one half of the first and only job-share partnership at her level in her organisation’s history.

“They go to great lengths to implement their adjusted work pattern in ways that safeguard their continued inclusion in the workplace”

What all thirty women have in common is the terrific responsibility they feel to make their new way of working a success. They go to great lengths to implement their adjusted work pattern in ways that safeguard their continued inclusion in the workplace.

As Erin, a part-time finance manager said, “I think it is my responsibility to make it work”. I describe that responsibility as a quiet one, meaning that it is not questioned and just accepted. Because working flexibly is a departure from the norm and an apparently voluntary choice, it is the individual’s responsibility – not the organisation’s – to redesign the job, to adjust the workload, and to participate fully in organisational life without burdening others or disrupting the usual ways of doing things.

These women are fatigued by working flexibly in inflexible work environments. The effort required to continuously craft a job to make it fit with the time available; working intensively to get through an unadjusted workload faster, as well as performing well and positioning for advancement; avoiding stigma and motherhood penalties – the pernicious associations between women’s working hours and their commitment to their careers.

Summed up by one male boss who said to Esther “I might be a dinosaur but can you stop telling people you’re a job share because they’ll think you’re a bit rubbish”. All of these pressures add up to a significant mental load.

“a systemic inattention to how we work and what needs to happen to make jobs genuinely flexible”

These women are not unique. Their experiences resonate with my work as a business consultant. The complexities they navigated and the problems they experienced bending to fit inflexible organisational structures and cultures highlights a systemic inattention to how we work and what needs to happen to make jobs genuinely flexible. Not addressing the structures and cultures that hold women back is equally bad for women’s progress and for modern workplaces.

Twenty-first century women have had to adapt to working models designed by and for twentieth century men at times when women were excluded from the professional workplace. They have done it well so far.

But if women continue to make up the majority of flexible workers and the burden for making flexibility work in practice is loaded on the individual and is not at least shared by the organisation, then equality and #balanceforbetter will remain out of reach for future generations of professional women.

 

Dr Zoe Young is a sociologist, writer and consultant.

Her fresh take on a flexible future of work drives her consultancy practice Half the Sky, where she helps organisations tackle the structural and cultural barriers that hold women back at work.

Her academic work focuses on gender, work and organisation, with particular focus on how motherhood impact women’s lives and careers. She completed her PhD at the University of Sussex.

Prior to this she worked in HR and management consultancy for many years. Her book Women’s Work: how mothers manage flexible working in careers and family life lifts the lid on women’s work-life experiences today in the jobs that 100 years ago only men could do. It is published by social purpose publisher Bristol University Press.

Womens work [FC]Women’s Work by Zoe Young is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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