Throughout this week, in recognition of International Women’s Day on 8th March, we are publishing 5 posts based on this year’s theme #PressforProgress for gender parity. This third post is focused on pressing for progress for employers to support working parents.
With the impending deadline for the first round of gender pay gap reporting for larger employers and the ensuing press attention shouting loudly that women continue to be undervalued and underdeveloped in the workplace, it’s a wake-up call for employers to take action to close the gap. Women make up 47% of the UK workforce but are more likely to be found in lower paid roles than men, despite girls outperforming boys in our education system.
To achieve greater parity, we need more women in senior, higher paid roles. To achieve this, there needs to be a strong and developing pipeline of female talent in all sectors. Improving the gender diversity across professions and functions, will strengthen the pipeline across the board and help businesses to realise the business benefits of improved diversity and contribute to the economic welfare of the nation.
Why don’t we have more women in senior positions?
The answer in two words: Motherhood Penalty.
Women’s careers tend to be impacted by both the possibility and the actuality of having a family. A recent report showed that over a third of UK employers ask questions to female applicants as to their intentions to start a family – and if it isn’t asked, the answer may be assumed through our inbuilt unconscious bias. Discrimination based on gender and marital status was outlawed over 40 years ago and a recent development to create a more level playing field for parents is the introduction of shared parental leave.
Employers that recognise and accept that a proportion of their employees are likely to take periods of maternity and paternity leave whilst taking action to actively retain and develop them are more likely to attract the best talent.
Here are 5 ways that employers can support working families:
1. What makes a family?
It’s useful to let go of the notion of what a “normal” or “typical” family is. 30% of families are now headed by a single female; there’s an increase in same sex parent families; pregnancy may take place anytime from teens to late 40s/early 50s; the divorce rate is rising and more families are blended from previous relationships. It’s important for managers not to make assumptions and judgements as to how individual employee’s manage and respond to being parents and the impact on their work. Most parents – mothers and fathers – want to play an active role in raising their children.
Raise awareness of unconscious bias in recruitment and development decision-making – educate and train your managers and review your procedures to reduce undue bias.
2. Support employees to be parents
It’s important for employers to recognise the vulnerability of new parents. For most parents, welcoming a new child into the world will be an exciting and joyful time. Equally it can be fraught with complications, setbacks and be stressful – especially when adding in concerns about employment security, finances and career progression.
It’s also worthwhile to recognise the different life stagers that parents go through and ensure this is reflected in the support you are able to offer – the parenting challenges of a toddler are quite different to parenting an adolescent. Equally with an aging population it is likely that your employees will also have additional caring responsibilities, say for older relatives.
Too many managers are afraid to deal with family-related matters such as a pregnancy announcement, miscarriage and other caring-related issues. If support can be put in place the employee is more likely to be engaged and productive.
Train your managers to recognise and support employees during key family transitions with empathy and signpost for additional support.
3. Family related policies
Create policies for your employees that are family-friendly, and apply these to all your employees regardless of gender. Go beyond the legal minimum, to show how you value your employees. Use your offering as a competitive advantage and encourage your employees to bring their “whole self” to work, rather than apologising for or having to hide away from the fact that they have a family.
Don’t use maternity leave as an opportunity to deal with performance issues.
Support your managers to create helpful dialogue with their team members and recognise that particularly n fast moving sectors, organisations need to manage expectations about the ability to come back to their actual role without any changes after a period of leave – whilst offering reassurance that there will be an equivalent role for their return. Adapting to change and being agile are key skills for our future.
Recognise that being a parent gives people the opportunity for personal growth, changing priorities, different drivers and an emotional maturity that can be embraced by an insightful employer.
Find ways to support longer career breaks and hire experienced returners. Provide ways in which your working parents can connect, share suggestions and concerns through an affinity programme.
Go beyond the legal minimum to create workable family-related policies for when your employees need them whilst supporting your business outcomes.
4. Flexible working
90% of the total UK workforce say they desire and expect a degree of flexibility in their working life. Gone are the days that businesses operate 9 – 5, 5 days per week, so make flexible working work for your business and your employees – provide the opportunity to your employees to flex and respond in an agile manner.
Employees are looking for flexibility in different ways – whether it is by location or hours worked and whether it is for longer term, short term or occasional instances – short term flexibility in hours worked during the school holidays, remote working, unforeseen emergencies and occasional medical appointments. Embrace technology to work smartly and effectively; give your employees choice. Your focus should be on creating the most engaged, supported and productive employees regardless of hours worked.
Provide choice and options based on the nature of the work expected, your demographics and business needs. The provision of flexibility can make the difference between retaining or losing key team members.
Create flexible working options that work for your business and engage your employees.
5. Promote and encourage shared parenting
Gender parity will only be achieved if more fathers participate in active parenting.
So far the uptake of shared parental leave is low but there are signs that it will become more common and the government are currently running a publicity campaign to promote the benefits.
Employers can play their part in making shared parenting leave more socially and professionally acceptable by providing equalised terms to an equivalent maternity leave and reassuring men that there will be no impact on their longer term career prospects.
Beyond being a new parent, promote examples of men participating in shared parenting activities such as those doing flexible and part-time work, especially senior men. Let’s breakdown the barriers to the traditional notion that parenting is woman’s work and help men share in the joy of raising their children whilst supporting their partner in their career.
Support the movement towards the sharing of parenting responsibilities.
Becoming a parent should be a joyful experience and not impacted by the stress of worrying about work and longer term career prospects. Your future leaders are your parents of today and tomorrow – attract, retain and develop them, look after them and this will be paid back through their productivity, engagement, creativity and loyalty.
Career-Mums provides a range of services to support employers engage better with working parents and impact on closing the gender gap. These include maternity and paternity coaching, training line managers, career development planning, returnship programmes and policy development. We run regular workshops for employers on Developing Women Leaders – here’s the details of the next workshop on 22nd March 2018.
What are you doing to #PressforProgress for employers to support working parents?
#CM5in5 for #IWD2018
This week we’re publishing 5 blog posts:
Monday: #PressforProgress for working parents
Tuesday: #PressforProgress for new parents
Wednesday: #PressforProgress for family-friendly employers
Thursday: #PressforProgress from leaders
Friday: #PressforProgress from the government
These can all be found on our website: www.career-mums.co.uk and social media channels.
Career-Mums Partnership helps parents to return to work after a career break and thrive as working parents as well as working with employers to improve gender diversity for the benefit of their business.