[Continued from Flexible working: poisoned chalice? (Part 1)]
Sarah Coles of Moneywise warns that even if your employer grants your request to work flexibly, it doesn't mean the battle's over. "You might achieve the flexible working life you desire, but it could leave your career in tatters," she says.
She points to the experience of female solicitors as evidence. In a survey commissioned by King's College London and the Association of Women Solicitors, 50% of respondents said those who work flexibly are seen as not being serious about their careers, and 44% said it had a negative effect on promotion prospects.
Lesley Browning, 41, a solicitor in the North West of England, says she used to work "crazy hours", but decided to go part-time after the birth of her son. "But the moment I did, my boss gave all my best clients to other colleagues.
"He took every opportunity to undermine me, and I was passed over for promotion. Eventually, I decided I'd had enough, and resigned."
Of course, if an employee is unfairly discriminated against on account of working flexibly, part-time, or childcare commitments, he or she may be able to resign and claim compensation for constructive dismissal and unlawful discrimination.
But Ros Bragg of Maternity Action cautions: "It's still extraordinarily difficult to pursue an action for discrimination. Whilst the law's clear, it's often very difficult to prove." Plus parents who are in the late stages of pregnancy, or at home looking after a baby, or who have just returned to work, simply don't have the time or energy.
Liz Morris, a director of Mayfield Associates, believes it will take more than just legislation to safeguard flexible working. She points out that: "At the moment fathers have the right to request flexible working, but they don't take it up. It's considered even less socially acceptable for a man to want flexible work than a woman."
But is this really true? Latest government figures show that of the 14 million employees currently working flexibly, 45% of them are men.
The same figures also reveal that men are nearly twice as likely to have their requests refused than women (23% vs. 13%). In addition, male employees tend to be less aware that they can request flexible working than female employees (53% vs. 60%).
[Continued in Flexible working: poisoned chalice? (Part 3)]