THE number of women applying for top jobs could rise by up to a fifth if employers embrace flexible working and gender-neutral language.

That was the finding of Hampshire employer Zurich, which last year became the first UK company to advertise all vacancies with the option of part-time, full-time, job share or flexible working.

The insurer – which has around 600 staff at Whiteley – has seen 16 per cent more women applying for jobs and nearly 20 per cent in the case of managerial roles.

Its findings form part of a wider study commissioned by the government and carried out by the Behavioural Insights Team, the company dubbed the “Nudge Unit”.

Zurich saw big rise in profits while introducing family-friendly policies

Zurich’s initiative also led to a rise of 33 per cent in the number of women hired for senior roles in the same period, according to a finding reported after the main study.

It found that adding six words to job ads to make them gender-neutral more than doubled the number of male and female applicants.

As well as prompting more applications, the new wording led to an eight per cent improvement in the feeling of “belonging” among existing part-time staff.

Steve Collinson, Zurich’s head of HR, said: “Flexible working can help tackle diversity and inclusion issues we’ve all been battling with for many years. Embracing part-time and flexible work is not a silver bullet. But we’ve seen hugely encouraging results, simply by adding six words to our job adverts.

“By offering roles that fit flexibly around family life, employers could open the floodgates to a much wider pool of untapped talent. This will also help women progress into higher paid jobs whilst fitting other commitments around their careers.

“Workers want a new deal and there’s a danger that businesses that don’t get on board, won’t be able to compete for the best and brightest minds.”

Non-governmental organisation the Equality Hub and government departments are seeking to ensure policy making takes into account lessons learned during the pandemic, including the benefits of flexible working.

Baroness Berridge, minister for women, said: “The benefits of flexible working have really been emphasised during recent months. We want to see more employers embracing practices such as working from home and returners programmes, which can have a positive impact for both men and women.

“Zurich’s work in this space has proven how effective a simple change to a job advert can be for workplace equality. It is vital that more employers take this on board as we seek to increase opportunities for everyone in this country.”