The signs are worrying. According to research commissioned by PwC last month, there has been a 40% fall in women holding senior management positions in the FTSE 350, which narrows considerably the pipeline of women to these boardrooms (in fact, only 10% of FTSE 100 companies have women on their boards).
Why are young working mothers abandoning the corporate career path? Is it the pressure they feel to combine a full-time job with raising a family? A study by the Work Life Balance Centre showed that 8 in 10 workers have a problem juggling the competing demands of work and home, with women more likely to feel this way than men.
Add into the mix an interesting finding from the government's labour force survey - that for the first time, there are one million self-employed women in workplace (an increase of 18% in five years) - and quite honestly, the writing is on the wall. Talented women are opting out of a system that doesn't work, to devise a career on their own terms, which for many of them, means starting up their own business. Where does that leave big business? In the words of Meg Munn, deputy minister for women: ‘creating more quality part-time roles is key to increasing the number of women in senior roles.'
This government has been very forward thinking in its concern for flexible working, especially the recognition that fathers want an increased role in the caring of their children. New legislation that comes into force on Friday means that maternity pay has been extended from six months to nine months; next year, working fathers will have greater rights too.
This increased flexibility for men could not come soon enough. Lifestyle research commissioned by FHM magazine shows that 70% of the 2,000 men they surveyed (with an average age of 30), want to split the caring of their children 50/50 with their partner, and that includes switching to part-time work. All well and good, but the survey also shows that half of the men said their partner wants them ‘to earn enough so she can be a full-time mother'; while 38% said their partner wanted to work part-time.
Could the waters get any muddier? The only clear observation to be made from all of this confusion is that more debate - and action - is needed if we're going to crack this particularly tough nut.