Working Papers

Working Parents and the Rise of the ‘Family Friendly’ Private Sector in Britain


In the late 1980s, a number of Britain’s largest corporations began to trumpet their ‘family-friendliness’ and active support for women’s careers. Whereas in the late 1970s, the challenges facing working parents remained far from the agendas of most British businesses, in the course of only a decade, a sea change had taken place. Major British employers began to develop new policies and schemes that aimed to keep some, predominately white, middle class, and professional women workers with caring responsibilities in the paid workforce. Private companies now found themselves at the helm of devising what appeared, at first glance, to be the very progressive policies that feminists had long advocated. This paper considers what drove the rise of the ‘family friendly’ private sector, and suggests that far from resolving the challenges of working parenthood or transforming the gendered division of labor, ‘family friendly’ policies primarily served the interests of business. Working parents were left to resolve the tensions between paid work and caring responsibilities on their own in the context of ever more labor for British families.