Defining a new deal for parents at work

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If organisations want to attract and hold on to talent, expecting working parents to choose between success in the home and the office is no longer an option.

And it is essential for employers to improve support for working fathers in order to achieve equality for working mothers.

That’s according to new research (Expecting More Than A Baby) commissioned by Talking Talent, who asked Censuswide to talk to over 7,000 working parents about their experiences.

So, what does the research tell us about how organisations can better support working parents?

Practice not policy

From the outset they need to challenge themselves to go further than simply setting policy to achieve this – they need working practices that make it easier for employees to share parental responsibilities between parents.

More than half of working parents (53 per cent) surveyed experienced a significant gap between what their workplace says it’s doing and what it’s actually doing to support them; around half of that group (26 per cent of the total) made this point strongly.

All types of organisations need to close this gap between their policies for supporting working parents and their actual, ongoing practices.  And the talk they seek to walk needs to be focused on enabling both parents to share family and home responsibilities as evenly as they wish.

Sharing to succeed

Successfully sharing their role as parents is essential for women to continue the progression of their careers and is key to closing the gender pay gap.

But it will only succeed if organisations ensure working dads don’t face exactly the same negative experiences which have stopped working mums progressing in the past.

The research found that over half (52 per cent) of working parents, including 26 per cent men and 30 per cent women, think that their career has slowed down compared to their childless colleagues.

Walking the talk is not that easy for many organisations. In particular it appears that working dads are finding it harder than working mums to secure support from their employers. 57 per cent of all those surveyed wanted flexible working hours. While 21 per cent of women have never had a request turned down, only 14 per cent of men experienced the same.

Start as you mean to continue

Let’s take shared parental leave (SPL) as an example.

The research shows how shared parental leave can shape the support organisations offer working parents. In the UK, two-thirds (66 per cent) of working parents agreed that SPL can benefit couples by preparing them to share parental responsibilities more equally in future years.

But one in three parents surveyed struggled to even understand their company’s policy on parental leave. This is a significant and underappreciated issue: no amount of workplace support is useful if the employees don’t know how to access it.

To send a clear and positive message, employers need to be more transparent and proactive in publishing their policies on parental leave.

The research shows that over half of parents (56 per cent) would have been very likely to share parental leave if their pay and working conditions had met their needs.

But, half of respondents (51 per cent) thought that fathers who took SPL would experience a detrimental effect on their careers, and 53 per cent feared judgement if they chose SPL.

So, employers have a crucial role to play in making SPL both available and appealing.

Performance and potential

Organisations need to encourage both men and women to view SPL in a more positive light by demonstrating that with the right support, the relationship between parenthood and professional success can be mutually beneficial.

The research also shows how this type of investment can benefit employers when parents return to work. Contrary to common assumption, nearly one in three new mothers (32 per cent) — and nearly half (46 per cent) of new fathers — reported an increase in confidence on their return to work after parental leave.

Rather than accepting tired myths about theoretical losses of skills or the supposed dangers of flexible working, this research challenges and encourages organisations to better understand the performance and potential of their working parents.

Future proof

Stepping up to address these challenges is not simply an isolated problem to solve, either. The research shows how it will prove to be an important future investment for organisations. Attitudes and expectations are changing fast among young people but still over two-thirds (68 per cent) of those surveyed expected that the next generation would find it just as hard as them to balance work and parenthood.

Any organisation that does not want to see this pessimism (and the resulting future disengaged workforce) become a sad reality needs to start taking action now.

About the author

Rebecca Hourston is Head of Working Parent & Executive Coaching Programmes at Talking Talent and a leading UK expert on supporting working parents and women’s leadership development. With an MA from Cambridge University, 15 years as a professionally qualified coach, a blue-chip corporate background at L’Oréal, and three young children, she has made a difference to thousands of people through events, speaking (including addressing the UN Women in Geneva), group and 1-1 coaching. Her thought leadership has featured in Forbes, The Guardian and Huffington Post.

Talking Talent is a niche, award winning global coaching consultancy leading the gender diversity agenda, and working with clients to unlock the potential within their business and make company-wide behaviour shifts that accelerate business performance.

The cited report (Expecting More Than A Baby: Closing the Employee Experience Gap for Working Parents) draws on the results from Talking Talent’s September 2018 survey of 7,087 working parents in the UK, the US, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and India, and it focuses primarily on the 1,023 respondents based in the UK.

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