If I’m totally honest, it took me more than a couple of attempts to get it right. Picking the right partner is actually not that simple.
Clearly, there has to be romance, strong attraction, a shared vision of a future together, someone who is fun to be on the journey with. But one thing I have learnt – an empathetic, supportive partner who says and does the rights things when the going gets tough, is just as, if not more important than the rest of it. It’s not always easy to do, but if each at least aims to give as much as they take out, to work hard when the pressure is on, things do tend to work out better.
I could be talking about my life partner. But equally, I might be talking about my employer.
Whichever way, I notice that people are getting very picky about whom they choose to commit to, and are much more demanding about what they will and will not accept. Employers in particular, are having to think carefully and creatively in terms of how to attract and retain the very best talent.
So when children arrive on the scene, this can be and often is, the ultimate test of the strength of a relationship. Challenges are worked through and solved together. The relationship is tested, but can ultimately become stronger. Or quite frankly, you can reach a dead end, the point at which differences become all too clear, agendas and expectations misaligned, and in the worst cases, relationships are broken up.
So when career men and women choose to start a family, why do companies leave so much to chance?
Many employers have great graduate programmes. Many have brilliant management schemes and invest heavily in leadership development. So, if and when a loyal employee decides to start a family, why do so few companies not see this for what it is? It is a critical and testing time for the company as well as the employee.
All the time and money invested in the individual and in the wider talent pipeline is either protected or has to be written off. Very few companies are thinking through how to support parents as they face the really tricky challenge of having to balance a career and a family. Some offer well worded policies, or some one-to-one coaching at the most senior levels. I’ve also heard inspiring stories of great line managers who are providing exceptional support. But in most cases, good support is there by luck rather than by design, and more often than not, employees are left to sink or swim.
Navigating through hard times and solving problems together creates deeper, more satisfying relationships. I think this is equally true in work as well as in personal life. So my call to action to influencers – think carefully what more you could be doing to better attract and protect your precious and hard won talent pipeline. And consider in particular how you might maintain that rich seam of talent that consists of those crazy people who choose to combine a career with children.
Helen Sachdev is one of the Founders of WOMBA as well as a senior executive and Trustee with both the CIMA UK Board and Leicester University Student’s Union, and an Executive Coach. She is a mother of two who is committed to making the world a better place for working parents.
You can find out more about WOMBA here.