More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of working mothers are concerned about losing the level of flexibility they have at work in 2024, according to a new survey by Robert Half Canada Inc.

Over the last 24 months, more companies have mandated employees to work onsite more frequently and that’s a big concern for working parents, says Tara Parry, Robert Half’s director of permanent services, noting many of the firm’s female employee clients have cited work flexibility as the No. 1 job element they consider when seeking a new employer.

“We have other research that shows particularly in the millennial generation [who are] working parents . . . [roughly] 40 per cent . . . would take a pay cut in order to increase their work flexibility. There’s just this fear of, ‘I’ve got a good thing right now [and] I’m afraid it’s gonna change.'”

Read: 60% of employees willing to take pay cut in exchange for flexible, remote working: survey

If employers aren’t careful, a mandated return to the office could disproportionately affect women workers and lead back to the ‘she-cession’ that the economy experienced in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, she says. “I like to think that because of the COVID years, we’re a little smarter about how we approach those sorts of work mandates. And I like to hope that companies have realized the need for flexibility in order to encourage diversity in the workforce.”

Employers need to think carefully about how they move forward, she adds, noting flexibility means taking into account the various generations in the workforce. “Flexibility to me as a working mom is very different than what it means to my 30-year-old colleagues who don’t have kids. And as long as we are meeting with [clients] in person and we’re present and . . . getting things done . . . there’s a lot of flexibility around what that looks like. If more employers find a way to adopt that kind of style, it really benefits not [just] working parents and working moms, that does benefit the workforce as a whole.”

Robert Half’s survey, which polled more than 600 working adults, also found more than half (53 per cent) of working mothers feel stuck in their career. Notably, a third (32 per cent) said they’d like to receive a promotion to a new role at their company this year. However, 19 per cent also said they were offered a title promotion without a raise in the last year.

Read: 65% of women employees concerned about receiving inadequate pay increases: survey

While more research is needed to determine whether the switch to remote and hybrid working is leading to less visibility of many remote workers and, thus, stagnation in their career progression, Parry notes younger workers, particularly those from generation Z, fear that increased remote work could result in fewer opportunities for advancement and career mentoring.

She suggests employees figure out what flexibility means for them — whether it’s having to work from home or having the ability to come and go at a time during the week that works for them and their family.

“As a working mom, flexibility doesn’t mean that I have to be able to work from home multiple days a week, it means that there’s a couple of days a week when I don’t get to the office until after 9 a.m. because I’ve taken my kids to school. But then I’m there, and I’m present and I’m engaged.”

She says in provinces that have, or are introducing, pay transparency legislation, there will be more opportunities for workers to advocate for themselves in terms of fair pay. “It provides a level of transparency, which gives women and people of colour and new Canadians just a little bit of an easiness as they go through their job search, because it’s very clear what the salary range is, and therefore, what they can ask for. And I think it will start to normalize [the conversation].”

Read: What do Ontario employers need to know ahead of new pay transparency legislation?