As competition for talent increases, how can you stand out to working parents?

How employers can support, retain and attract working parents at leadership level.

Organisations can position themselves as employer of choice by offering working parents career progression opportunities, says Verena Hefti

Working parents, particularly mothers, are a talent pool that employers can’t afford to ignore if they care about retention, attraction and the gender leadership gap. According to the office of National Statistics, 82% of UK women have children by the time they are 45. But, attracting and retaining this talent is becoming increasingly difficult for employers, with 93% of them stating that they experienced hiring difficulties in the past 12 months according to the CBI. 

Working parents are mobile and expect more than just flexible working from their employers. Nearly 4 in 10 working parents said they want to pursue a new job in 2023 in a survey of 3000 respondents last year and 67% said career progression matters to them. Employers who want to be the top choice for applicants with children must offer more than just flexible working. 

What do your working parent employees tell their peers when they are asked whether they would recommend applying for that vacancy on your careers portal? 

I have had the privilege to listen to the conversations of more than 500 professional working parents through my work with Leaders Plus. 

Here are three common employer issues parents told me about:


  1. Parent progression plateau: you may be experiencing this if flexible jobs are only offered at junior levels or in back office functions in your organisation. Your working parent employees see that they can’t progress here without giving up being a present parent.

    What you can do: as a small first step, analyse the percentage of rejected flexible working requests by department and seniority level and discuss it with the board. A big idea is to advertise all jobs flexibly, including at a senior level. When Zurich insurance did this, applications from women to senior roles saw a jump of 20%.


  1. Role model desert: you lack senior leader role models who are vocal about also being present with their families and setting boundaries. Role models matter for career progression: research by Deloitte has shown that each woman in a senior role leads to three more women coming up behind her.

    A first step is to interview one of your senior leaders about how they combine their caring role with young children. A bigger investment is to offer targeted career development or mentorship programmes for working parents to create those role models, such as the Leaders Plus Fellowship.


  1. Tackle inconsistencies: what you want to achieve with your policies doesn’t match with the values your line managers exhibit. Too often, parents tell me that while their employer’s family policies are great on paper, but it varies greatly depending on the line manager whether they will be supported in big and small stressful life moments such as miscarriage or nursery closing due to staff shortages.

    A first step is to ensure that all line managers know where to find the relevant policies and guidance, I am surprised by how many working parents tell me that they or their manager doesn’t know the policy. A bigger but valuable initiative would be to train line managers in inclusion and have a clear message from the CEO that they should be supportive in life’s pressure moments, because that’s what working parents will tell their friends about. 


There is a lot more to standing out to working parents, but hopefully, this is a start. Employers who understand the needs and wants of working parents and take steps to support them will be better positioned to retain and attract talent, improve gender diversity in leadership, and ultimately, shape the future of work. 



Zurich: Flexible and part-time job adverts draw more women | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

ONS Childbearing for women born in different years, England and Wales – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

Verena Hefti MBE is CEO and founder of the Social Enterprise Leaders Plus and the host of the Big Careers Small Children podcast

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