Is working part-time possible in top jobs?

Top positions cannot be reached by working part-time. It´s therefore no surprise that the number of women working full-time has increased. The society could do more to help these women make it to the top, says Mischa Voogt, Managing Director of Michael Page.

Amsterdam, 13 June 2016 – Jet Bussemaker, the Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science, could not have been any clearer in her recent comments: working part-time does not have to be an obstacle to a woman's career, even if she aspires to a top job. According to Mischa Voogt, Managing Director of Michael Page Nederland, however, things are not quite so straightforward in practice: “Future developments in the labour market may well bring about a change, but at present working full-time is still pretty much a prerequisite if you want to land, and hold onto, a top job. And that applies just as much to men as it does to women.”

Managing people takes time

One of the findings to emerge from a recent survey by Michael Page on differences in the position of men and women in the labour market is that the number of women working in full-time roles is going up rather than down. Of the organisations questioned, 25% say that the number of women in full-time jobs has increased over the past five years, 61% state that the number has remained stable and only 14% report a decline. “In my view, for the part of the market that we serve, in particular the senior management segment, these figures do not come as a surprise,” says Voogt. “If you want an attractive top job with lots of responsibility, working full-time is almost a prerequisite. Working in a demanding role that involves managing lots of people quite simply takes up a great deal of time. These hours have to come from somewhere and it's hard to find the time if you only work three or four days a week. If you want to work less, so you can spend a couple of days a week at home with your child, it might be better to consider a different kind of role.”

Create better conditions

The Minister's suggestion that men should work less and take over some of the parenting tasks that are often carried out by women at present will not be practicable in all cases, according to Voogt. She has two children herself and a partner who also works full-time in a top job. “Working fewer hours is not an option for either of us. Our jobs simply don't allow it. However, that doesn't mean that our work comes before our children. As we are in well-paid jobs, we are able to make good child care arrangements. I therefore don't believe that to get more women into top jobs everyone should be allowed to work part-time, as that is not a realistic expectation. It would, however, be worthwhile to think about how we could achieve equal opportunities by creating better conditions.”

Changes to the school system

One example of what society could do to increase the number of women working at the top level, according to Voogt, is to make changes to the school system. “If school hours were better aligned with parents' working hours, it would already be much easier for many women to work in full-time roles. For the middle segment in particular this would remove a considerable number of obstacles. Child care is also extremely expensive in the Netherlands compared with neighbouring countries. There is still plenty that we can do in this area.”

Responsibility rests with women

A certain amount of responsibility rests with women themselves, according to Voogt: “Women should be less worried about making a clear choice. There is still a commonly held view that a full-time job can’t be combined with having a family. I don't believe that is the case, provided that you arrange everything properly. However, you need to be convinced that you are making the right choice. Would you prefer to spend a couple of days a week at home with your children? If so, be honest with yourself and accept the consequence that a different kind of role might suit you better.”

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