Supporting Actors

In the workplace, there are few bigger insults than being called a ‘part-timer’. Here in the UK we’ve just learned that there’s a hefty financial penalty to choosing part-time work. A report by the government-funded Women and Work Commission shows that British women who work part-time earn 32% less than the hourly earnings of women who work full-time and 41% less per hour than men who work full-time.

Twenty years since the term ‘glass ceiling’ was coined by the Wall Street Journal, similar pay gaps remain in most developed economies. In the United States, professional women, who for family or other reasons return to work in part-time jobs or roles with less responsibility, see their earnings drop by an average of 28% according to the New York-based Centre for Work-Life Policy.

But I suspect that, as much as women resent the pay gap, many are hurt more by the oft-heard slur that, by choosing to work part-time, they are less committed to their jobs.

There may be sexism at work here, but by and large the evidence points to prejudice against part-timers, regardless of their sex. In other words, many bosses still make a judgment about our motivation and commitment to a job by the number of hours we spend doing it. Talent, skill and enthusiasm are considered irrelevant. In offices plagued by this most virulent strain of ‘presenteeism’, even the most brilliant part-time worker is confined to a supporting or cameo role.

Problem is, a growing number of us no longer wish to work the traditional 40-, 50- or 60-hour week. In the U.S., nearly a quarter of the workforce are already freelance, work on a contract or temporary basis, act as independent consultants or run their own business. Maybe it’s time employers flicked to widescreen and saw the bigger picture.