“I believe it is brave employers that shift thinking, showing what is possible.
You are the change.
We have invited you all today because change is possible.
Because of your support, we have shown that working parents want to progress up the career ladder, and through your support of our social enterprise, 60% of individuals who were part of our last cohort said on the last day that they got promoted or got more senior responsibility, this would not have happened without the employer partners in the room.
We know you are the people who shape organisations, and who every day set a different example by nudging a policy in the right direction or ensuring role models are created and celebrated or offering professional development.
We believe that it is people who create change.”
Verena Hefti MBE addressing invited business leaders at the House of Commons, 13th June 2023
Our most recent event invited 30 senior leaders, Directors and CEOs of some forward-thinking, national and international organisations to the House of Commons, kindly hosted by Janet Daby MP and her parliamentary team.
We asked these leaders a question: What if…?
Read on to find out where the discussion led us.
Fantastic to welcome @Leaders_Plus to Parliament today.
They are a brilliant organisation which support people with young families to progress in their careers while on maternity leave or shared parental leave.
Well done to Verena for leading such empowering discussions 👏🏾 pic.twitter.com/NH1NUGxZpq
— Janet Daby MP (@JanetDaby) June 13, 2023
During the event, Leaders Plus invited two guest speakers to share their experiences, and then facilitated discussion groups on key topics that we know matter to working parents.
The fresh thinking that was shared during this event could be the catalyst for both the policy and culture changes needed to truly support working parents. Working parents who want to continue to progress ambitious and fulfilling careers while raising their young families.
Below are some key takeaways from the discussion.
Temi Olusola, Human Resources Director at Westminster Abbey believes “you don’t always need a formal policy, sometimes you just need role models”.
Temi believes that diversity of thought can only come from diversity of experience – be that ethnicity, socio-economic background, gender, or parental status.
“It’s just magical when you get people into a room – when they all have different backgrounds, ethnicities etc – and you get them to solve a problem. And who has more diversity of thought than a mother or father?”.
At the Abbey, she takes inspiration from the Finnish, who not only consider what the parent needs but also what the child needs.
When considering how to support working parents, she and her team ask “How can I think about this from the child’s perspective? What does the child need?”. This leads to more empathy and, often, creative solutions that lead to more flexibility in working arrangements to satisfy that child’s needs.
She, like Verena, doesn’t believe we should sit and wait for one big parliament lobby: “it’s about employers doing little things.”
Practical advice employers could take away and try right now, from Temi’s experience
- Why not have a working parents group? What about buddying and champions? Consider ways in which you could facilitate support networks between employees going through similar challenges.
- Be the person in the room to say “well, let’s just try it!” – sometimes initiatives and flexible patterns need trialing to understand whether they will work for the individual, and the organisation more broadly. If you are in a position to approve a request from an employee, rather than needing significant justification upfront, just try it and measure the impact. You might be surprised.
- Review the mass return to work programme your organisation conducted post-COVID-19: what positive elements of that could be replicated for those returning from maternity/ parental/ adoption leave?
- Consider implementing a “no meetings at 9am” policy – for parents who may be beginning their day after an already fraught school run/ emotional childcare drop-off, a buffer of 15-20minutes before needing to engage is likely to be appreciated.
Temi ended her talk by reiterating: “I was able to advance because I saw my managers before me [progress their careers while raising families]. You don’t always need to make a policy, just need parents as role models in leadership. You think these things aren’t being spoken about but they are. Relatability brings empathy and understanding.”
Sam Geis, Vice President & People Partner, KBR follows the guiding principle of putting their employees first because “we value our people”.
Sam understands the weight her position carries in role modelling flexible working for working parents.
“Due to our international nature, there are often differing demands across multiple time zones. People should know that it’s okay if you can’t meet because of family commitments, be it as a working parent or not.”
Practical advice employers could take away and try right now, from Sam’s experience
- Consider dedicating one HR team member as a “new parents champion” for continuity of support in the lead up to, during, and on return from parental leave.
- Recognise and celebrate the unique skill sets parents develop while raising young children and encourage individuals to recognise them in themselves.
- Consider implementing backup care or paid carers leave (an approach that Sam has seen offered in Australia) – partnering with an organization such as Bright Horizons in the UK, or a number of dedicated leave days to be taken when a child is sick. Sam highlighted that, while this would obviously ease the burden of negotiating any childcare disruption between co-parents, it is even more valuable for single parent families.
- Offer job shares at all levels, especially senior roles: “there is undoubtedly an increased diversity of thought with two brains coming together”.
Frazer Nash Consultancy, part of KBR, Inc is an employer partner with Leaders Plus and has supported 6 employees through the programme to date.
Sam acknowledged the challenges of attracting women into the engineering sector and the “very leaky pipeline”, then shared the story of an employee and Leaders Plus Fellow who applied for, and was awarded, a promotion while on maternity leave. She emphasised that parental leave should never be a barrier to progression, and that parents should be supported and encouraged to apply if it is something they want.
What if…in 2033, 4 in 10 seats at the c-suite were held by working mothers with good work-life balance (and some working dads too)? What would employers have done? (Group discussion)
- It may seem 50/50 on paper, but we will have addressed the mental load that still falls primarily on women’s shoulders. Employers will have role modelled this by talking about their own experience. Senior male leaders will routinely talk about needing to book healthcare appointments for their children, have the school run in their work calendars, and communicate when they’ve had a poor night’s sleep so might not be at 100% productivity etc.
- When employers are aware of senior roles that will be coming up while an employee is on maternity/ parental leave, they will routinely be offered the opportunity to interview and record it before going on leave, ready for it to be added to the application pool when it opens.
- Parents will be offered equal parental leave regardless of gender (or birthing/ non-birthing status) – this is different to shared parental leave and is completely interchangeable between parents.
- The next generation of male leaders will see their senior male role models taking equal/ shared parental leave as normal.
- Companies will celebrate men going on leave in the same way as a woman going on maternity – attitudes are important!
- There will have been investment in technology and facilitation training for hybrid meetings.
- Flexible working will be truly responsive to indvidual need with work measured on outcomes, not set working patterns or hours logged. Candidates will flock to employers that offer this as standard. Senior leaders will role model healthy boundaries, e.g. putting in email signatures “If I respond out of standard hours, that’s my choice, I do not expect the same of you”.
What are employers doing to support working parents that is already successful? (Open space swap shopping)
Our guests picked one of four corners in the room and shared what’s already working, on the topic that interested them the most.
- Job share app within the organisation, offering the opportunity to share even internationally.
- Trial 4 day working week in a customer facing department to identify any communications or technical challenges in roles where continuity of service is most important.
- With 4 day working weeks, offer the option of banking a 5th day, for those who work it, as TOIL.
- Offering the option to buy additional annual leave.
- Offer flexible working by default and flip the attitude to ‘prove that it can’t work’ rather than “prove that it can [before we try]”.
- Hybrid working will have different requirements depending on role – consider agreeing on patterns team by team.
- Non-meeting Fridays.
- No meetings before 10am.
Talent development including high potential lists
- Develop female talent early.
- Offer ‘proper’ part time senior roles and development opportunities for part time workers.
- Share case studies that are representative of the talent you want to progress (e.g. working mums or dads).
- Facilitate mentoring for middle management levels.
- Sponsorship – formalise it.
- Train line managers to lead with trust and flexibility – needs change throughout the parenting journey.
- Encourage managers to be brave in their leadership decisions (they might need to go against the “norm” or suggest changes to policy to adequately support working parents).
- Must be open to all people not just parents, in order to reduce resentment.
- Consider setting core hours but, beyond that, the ability to individually job shape is important.
- Identify what’s most important: typically continuity of service to customers (especially in crisis services). It’s harder, but there are ways around it.
- Ask yourself whether juniors/ watercooler conversations really suffer in a hybrid environment? Is it a real obstacle, or just an idea perpetuated to encourage people back into the office?
- List other ways you could encourage ad hoc learning and/ or team building moments remotely – they do exist!
- With remote work, ensure you have a “check-in” culture, not a “check up on” one. Employees who feel trusted are more likely to produce good work. Ensure you communicate expectations and manage underperformers, but trust that good employees will get the work done by the agreed deadline.
- If you offer hybrid/ remote working – communicate it in your job adverts! Adverts that communicate this clearly receive far more diverse applicant pools.
There is still work to be done in pursuit of equal career progression for working parents, but employers such as those we hosted at the House of Commons this week are making bold steps towards the goal.
Thank you once again to everyone attended, especially the wonderful baby Theo – son to two Fellows concurrently following our programme, Jessica and Darryl. Despite the respected venue, the senior leaders, the wonderful thought leadership, you were inarguably the star of the show!
We love to partner with employers, big or small, that share our vision for radical change.
Together we can support leaders with babies and young children to continue to thrive in their careers, regardless of their gender.
By partnering with Leaders Plus we can help you to retain talent by offering extensive support to working parents at a critical point in their lives when they are most likely to drop out of the talent pipeline.
There are a number of different partnership options available and we offer a range of attractive benefits for employers. Please get in touch to find out more.