Retail provides a high volume of part-time roles, and many of these are filled by women.

According to a report from Timewise (a multi-award winning social business), ‘flexibility’ is one of the most important reasons why people choose to work in retail.

As the report revealed, however, there is a danger that these flexible part-time positions are preventing career progression and effectively ‘trapping’ workers at a certain level.

 “Much talent is wasted because retail staff who need to work flexibly or part-time are trapped in junior jobs: they cannot take their flexibility with them from frontline roles to store management.” Timewise

56% retail employees believe they are less likely to get promoted if they work part time.* It’s this fear that Timewise wants to address.

Is this issue limited to the retail sector?

Whilst it’s particularly prevalent in retail due to the sheer number of part-time roles, additional research reveals that this fear of being trapped in a role without the promise of progression is widespread.

In a previous survey, Timewise spoke to a thousand part-time workers across multiple sectors about their career hopes and fears.

Of the 1,000 people who took part in the survey, 77% felt trapped in their current roles, whilst 85% felt their current role was at least a step down, or at the same level, as the last full-time job they held.**

Where does the problem stem from?

It could be rooted in negative perceptions of part-time workers not delivering as much as their full-time colleagues. Sadly, the same study found that 34% part-time workers felt they were valued less than full-time staff members, whilst 11% felt invisible.

Or perhaps the issue is that organisations are certain that senior roles need a full-time member of staff to manage the work. Case studies like this one from EY show that this isn’t necessarily true, but it will take time to dislodge deeply embedded beliefs and doubts in other organisations.

Millions of part-time women are feeling under-valued and under-promoted whilst being over-qualified for the role they’re doing.

Based on a successful pilot project, Timewise have made a number of recommendations to tackle this issue in the retail sector. Meanwhile, we’ve put together some thoughts based on our experiences.

Hireserve is a small technology company. All team members, full and part-time, have the opportunity to work flexibly. 20% of our workforce work part-time and the majority of these are working mums.

As a small business, we have embraced flexibility. In the early days, when we employed our first staff members, we didn’t need a full-time HR or Finance Manager, but we also didn’t want to outsource.

Instead, we tapped into the talent pool of working parents. Our HR Manager started on four hours a week. Fast forward nine years and she now works three days a week. Her role has expanded with the needs of the company, and in line with her caring responsibilities as her children have grown.

Our advice for businesses looking to nurture and develop part-time talent:


 Inclusion in the team

  • Include part-time team members in all areas of the business. It is deeply concerning that respondents in the Timewise survey felt under-valued or, worse, invisible. Arrange all-team meetings or socials for days when the majority of your part-time team are in the office, or alternate dates to try and accommodate everyone’s working schedules.
  • If part-time team members can’t be on site, invite them to join meetings using online conferencing tools.

Working environment

  • Foster an environment of trust and transparency, where full and part-time team members are trusted to work flexibly. Place value on the quality of work delivered, not hours worked.
  • Lead this attitude from the top down. Educate Line Managers to ensure they reflect this amongst their teams and people manage accordingly.
  • Be open to requests from team members to work flexibly or to adjust their hours to part-time. Empower them to build a business case and explain how their proposal will benefit them and the business.

Career progression

  • Skilled managers can oversee a team of full-time staff without being sat with them 9-5. Organised, driven team members can deliver complex projects on time and to exceptional quality without being in the office five days a week. Location and hours should not be a barrier to promotion or progression.
  • Be realistic about what your organisation can provide in terms of promotion. If you have a flat company structure, it may not be possible to offer formal title changes, or there may be nowhere for someone to ‘move’ within the hierarchy. Instead, offer increased responsibilities in the remit of someone’s role or enable them to explore different areas of the business.

If you start with just a few of these points or the recommendations from Timewise, you could reap the rewards of investing in your organisation’s part-time talent. You may see higher staff engagement and potential. And it’s likely you’ll be able to unlock senior-level talent you didn’t realise you had.


*Research credit: BRC ibid | Cited in Timewise ‘Moving up in retail’ report

**Timewise ‘Flexibility Trap’ report

Find out more

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4 articles you need to read about gender in the workplace

Read Archana’s story of flexibility, family and full-time work

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.