The role of the Employer Parent Network or Employee Resource Group (ERG) within organisations has seen a resurgence in recent years. As companies deepen their focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programmes whilst balancing the call for more empathic and nurturing approach to working parents – a need highlighted by the global pandemic – Parent Networks are becoming an essential way of bridging the gap between the business and the expectations of employees.
But, as a 2022 McKinsey report showed, getting these groups right is essential, as an ineffective ERG can have a more detrimental effect on feelings of inclusion than not having one at all.
So, what is the key to creating an effective Employer Parent Network?
At our recent Leaders Plus Round Table, How to Use Employer Parent Networks to Influence Change, we were joined by a panel of guest speakers who are all leading the charge in their organisations. From global networks to informal peer groups, they shared their insights on what has made their unique journeys a success.
The challenge of going global
Rachael Willis is HSBC’s Head of HR, Commercial Banking and Global Banking & Markets for the Middle East, North Africa and Türkiye. She is also the Global Co-Chair of Nurture providing support, education and advocacy for HSBC’s working parents and caregivers globally.
As an established ERG, they benefit from senior support including a vocal and influential sponsor with access to the board – the holy grail for any ERG trying to affect change. However, for a global network at an organisation the size of HSBC, they face a unique challenge in maintaining consistency in their message whilst allowing the individual chapters to remain relevant to their local members.
According to Rachael, the key to overcoming this challenge is their ‘Global Minimum Standards’, a set of policies and guiding principles that, no matter where the chapter is located, keeps the ERG focussed.
“The beauty of having something centralised is we can feedback from our members across multiple jurisdictions to executive committees and boards and not only advocate across different markets and geographies but also support with canvasing on the ground. Consistency in messaging and a unified voice helps our senior leaders to hear the same message rather than disparate asks.”
The power of employee voice
When Molly Edwards, Workforce Development Manager, National Grid, experienced the isolation and challenges faced by many working parents during the global pandemic, she knew she had to do something to provide support for her co-workers.
Having spent several months researching how to set up a Parent Network, designing the group and gaining senior buy-in, the Families in National Grid network launched coinciding with the announcement of the second lock-down and school closures.
In the first week they gained over 100 members who connected through an informal online chat forum, a safe space where members were able to raise personal topics around the challenges they faced. As the group grew and developed, they were guided by the issues raised by its members and began to break taboo subjects, including baby loss.
“We began as a group sharing our own personal experiences of loss… and it was here that we realised there was a gap in our policy around early miscarriage. It sparked a debate, and we campaigned with HR for a change in policy. We achieved a change in policy for 2 weeks paid bereavement leave for early loss. It was a proud moment.”
Families in National Grid have gone on to implement more changes under the guidance of new Chair, Stephanie O’Connor , with Jemma Spencer and Dave Guyon acting as vice-chairs. Initiatives include, a return-to-work check list for employees and managers, a buddy system, and they continue to be led by their members in addressing broader working parent topics such as coping with divorce, single parenting, and adoption.
From grassroots to influencing change
Michelle Vassallo, Senior Clinical Delivery Manager, NHS England South East was also spurred to take action after her experience as a working parent coping through lockdown. Despite qualifying for continued childcare as a key worker, she was forced to take unpaid leave when her toddler’s nursery closed its doors, and the juggle became too much.
In January 2021, Michelle set up an informal staff group to support working parents within her own team. It quickly became apparent that this group had the potential to support more working parents across the region and in September 2021, the group became a recognised NHS England Staff Network. The network provides access to peer support as well as being a collective voice to promote positive change for working parents employed by NHS England.
Now with formal reorganisation taking place across the NHS, ERGs are a core part of the consultation process with Michelle taking a place at the EQIA Steering Group meetings to represent the experience of her members.
“The Executives want to hear from Employee Networks. There’s an Action Plan with specific tasks that the networks will take forward. We’ve gone from being a small group where everyone felt quite vulnerable and now to a group where we’ll be able to influence change.”
A community for Parent Network leaders
Join the Leaders Plus community through our LinkedIn group for co-chairs and regular events ‘How to use Employer Network to Influence Change’.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Also, we are now taking applications for our Autumn 2023 Fellowship – please tell your working parent friends and colleagues About the Leaders Plus Fellowship Programme