Organisations must position themselves as employer of choice by becoming more inclusive and offering working parents career progression opportunities.
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.
What’s the Reality for Working Parents?
Our recent Big Parent Career Choices Survey was completed by nearly 900 working parents and is the most current research highlighting the reality of being an ambitious working parent.
Our research found that while parents have the appetite to progress into senior roles – and often consider their parental roles to have enhanced key skills such as productivity – career progression can often appear inaccessible to them.
For instance, 86% of working parents want to progress their careers but only 30% think that progression is likely with their current employer.
Unsurprisingly, this Progression Gap disproportionately impacts women.
50% of working mums think that having children has negatively impacted their career, compared to only 30% of working dads.
Women’s commitment to work also comes into question once they have had children with 42% of mums receiving comments questioning their commitment to work compared to 26% of dads. 54% of mums were asked whether they were going part-time after having children compared to only 18% of dads.
Employers who want to be the top choice for applicants with children must offer more than just flexible working. Organisations must ask themselves what their working parent employees tell their peers when they are asked whether they would recommend applying for that vacancy.
According to our survey a staggering 44% would not recommend their current employer whilst 1 in 4 working parents have had to move employers due to caring responsibilities.
What Can Employers Do to be More Inclusive?
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:
- 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%.
- Role model desert: you lack senior leader role models who are vocal about also being present with their families and set 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 award-winning Leaders Plus Fellowship.
- 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, their lived experience varies greatly depending on the line manager.
I am surprised by how many working parents tell me that they or their manager doesn’t know the policy. A first step is to ensure that all line managers know where to find the relevant policies and guidance. A bigger but valuable initiative would be to train line managers in inclusion backed-up by a clear message from the CEO that they should be supportive in life’s pressure moments. , 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.
For more recommendations on how to support one of your most valuable talent pools, download our report Career Progression Gap: The Next Frontier