A woman’s life and career does not necessarily include children. However, where there are children – or adult dependants, such as older parents – to care for, then family life presents watershed moments: points at which women can be lost from the workplace, or drop down from a career that actually applies their talents.
Nearly 70% of mothers in the UK work.
There are now as many working mothers as working women without children. No surprise then that enabling and retaining the ‘Working Mother’ is seen one of the biggest social, cultural, political and economic issues of our time. The challenges and solutions are debated constantly across the mediasphere.
Since My Family Care exists to help employees and employers get to grips with the challenges (and rewards) of combining work and family, we see these issues ‘up close and personal’ on a daily basis. Recently the debate has widened – thankfully – to the needs of working fathers, grandparents and others. Yet, this does not mean we’re all done with working mothers.
So what do women want (and need)?
A recent global survey by Linked in to mark International Women’s Day this year showed that for 63% of women ‘success at work’ means finding a balance between work and personal life. Three quarters also believe that you can ‘have it all’, a fulfilling career, relationship and children.
What do you need to make it work?
My Family Care believes (and we’ve seen it in action with our clients) that a working mother is going to need a number of things to make combining work and family work for them. It’s a collage of three elements: practical help, a supportive working culture and personal development.
For most working mothers having the right childcare in place and a support system (backup care) for when things go wrong (and they do – about 9 times a year on average) are pretty crucial. With flexible working in the mix (that works for both employee and employer) it means that a working mother has a work/life structure that gives her the best chance of success. It’s worth making the point that flexible working, in its many forms can’t and doesn’t work for every role, but it works for many and where it can’t work, other practical support becomes even more critical.
Employers who help their employees with the practical basics have reported the benefits of employees who are engaged and focused on their work.
A supportive working culture
Having all the practical help in the world is all well and good, but if working mothers feel apologetic for leaving at 5.30pm to do a nursery pickup or struggle with a culture of ‘presenteeism’ then constantly ‘swimming against the tide’ becomes demoralising. It becomes an issue of retention for employers.
So how do employers foster a supportive culture? There are many tools in use, from clear company policies, senior role models, ensuring managers are on board, to parenting networks and employee groups. For many of our clients, inclusivity and diversity are central cultural tenets which naturally include the empowerment of working women.
With the right to request flexible working set to extend to all in 2014 or 2015 and with many employers already encouraging wider flexibility, the art is to achieve a culture which does not provide favours for working parents so much as enabling smart working for all, with enough clarity about deliverables that people can make their arrangements work, and be ambitious, even when working in non-traditional ways.
Becoming a mother is a huge life change and women are most likely to be lost from organisations during this particular transition, or soon after. Supporting and enabling the development of women at this time through coaching – helping them take charge of communications and planning, increasing their sense of control and influence – has resulted in huge increases in retention levels. Employers have also pushed for increasing choices in how it can be implemented, from individual to group coaching, remote coaching, introducing internal maternity mentors, and buddy networks.
But it shouldn’t necessarily stop at the return to work, working mothers are by definition ‘time poor’ but in many cases no less committed to their careers. Many of our clients continue to support recent mothers’ professional development and leadership development and make it easier for them progress through programmes of sponsorship and mentoring.
Alongside this, many also have parents networks with seminars, forums and other resources to provide practical advice, covering everything from professional networking and work-life balance through to potty training to having better conversations at home.
Why do employers invest in making life easier for working women?
We know from working with our clients, that it’s the ultimate win-win. With many more working mothers in the workforce, they’re a group that needs to be acknowledged. They bring diversity to companies and to their leadership and with the average age of first time motherhood now at 30, they’re an experienced resource. Not least of all, motherhood brings with it maturity, personal growth and a sense of responsibility, valuable attributes in any employee. Ultimately if individuals win then companies win. It’s that simple.
But how does it work in practice?
Every company is different and the challenges for the business and their female employees will reflect this as will the support they put in place. Our clients, PageGroup and Baker McKenzie provide some insights into their approaches.
My Family Care Client PageGroup explains why and how it’s committed to supporting it’s female employees
By Sarah Kirk, Regional Director, Women@Page.
We’ve launched a global initiative – Women@Page – to create a more inclusive working environment in order to achieve gender diversity within our workforce. The initiative aims to develop and support the pipeline of female talent currently within the organisation, raise their aspirations, and breakdown any preconceived perceptions.
The best companies are those that are truly diverse. It is a proven fact, that a company with a more gender balanced management team achieves higher sales, higher returns on invested capital and higher returns on equity, so it makes good business sense for us to achieve this.
Our initiatives to support women
For PageGroup, our Women@Page initiative is more than a set of activities; it is a statement of intent, with our senior management showing their commitment day in, day out until gender diversity becomes the status quo.
Internally the initiative is sponsored by our chief executive officer Steve Ingham and Fabrice Lacombe, executive board director, France, Central & Eastern Europe. Externally a key driver and sponsor of Women@Page is Ruby McGregor-Smith, CBE, our senior independent director and the chief executive officer of MITIE Group plc.
Having Ruby as a key sponsor of our Women@Page initiative is a real privilege to our organisation. Not only is she a great role model but she is a strong advocate for diversity in the workplace and holds a seat on the Women’s Business Council.
PageGroup is currently established in 34 countries and we appreciate that each of these may have different challenges for our women. Therefore we also have a global project team in place who works on supporting and driving the roll out of programmes locally.
We’ve implemented a Global Mentoring Programme to support and bring through talented women at management level. Mentors include senior managers within the Group who undergo external training to better equip them to provide their mentees guidance and support. In particular, mentors will challenge their mentees to think differently, consider their options and honestly analyse their strengths and weaknesses to build successful careers.
In addition, we’ve also got a customised internal website which profiles the careers of successful women within PageGroup, features pledges of support from senior leaders, and provides tips and advice to help women achieve their aspirations.
The next item on our agenda is looking at the active management of women whilst on their maternity journey. We’ve partnered up with My Family Care, to help us provide better insight around maternity coaching and guidance on maternity leave issues.
The impact of Women@Page
Since we launched Women@Page last year we’ve have great feedback from our business from the training, mentoring and support programmes we’ve put in place. As an organisation I believe we’re making promising and concrete steps forward.
We have a unique culture at PageGroup where we have a strong focus on internal promotion, and as such, are one of a very few organisations who can say operationally 95% of directors have been promoted from within. Therefore, to achieve true gender diversity within our workforce we have made a commitment for the long term.
A diverse workforce is a better workforce says My Family Care Client, Baker McKenzie
By Jenny Barrow, Head of Diversity & CSR
From our earliest days, one of the key beliefs of Baker & McKenzie has been that a diverse work force is a better work force and a better work force enables us to respond better to the needs of our clients and the communities we work in.
Companies that proactively manage gender diversity and have a long-term commitment to it can reap crucial competitive benefits by turning this diversity into a business success. Providing a level playing field to women and men enables companies to benefit from the widest possible pool of talent, build and consolidate a good reputation in the marketplace, and improve their competitiveness and financial performance.
We understand the commercial and societal benefits of improving the ratio of women to men within our firm and its leadership and are taking proactive steps in support of this priority. Being ahead of the curve in terms of creating the environment in which businesses can flourish through a balanced workforce; retention and promotion of talent (regardless of gender) who demonstrate the potential and performance to succeed; and acting as an advocate for gender diversity is how we, as a firm, will deliver on this.
Increasing women’s participation in leadership positions in our firm will require different approaches. Our goals are to ensure women comprise a significant and appropriate proportion of leadership positions to reflect the balance at the junior levels; and to retain our high performers from both genders. To achieve these, Baker & McKenzie has identified four key areas of focus (Leadership, policies, development & training and metrics, monitoring & reporting) to ensure we make a difference in breaking down both the structural, as well as the invisible barriers to the recruitment, development and advancement of women.
We are taking concrete steps to increase the number of women leaders. 40% of our lawyers globally are women, and many of our women lawyers serve in leadership roles. But, like all law firms, we know we have work to do to foster more women leaders throughout the Firm. At the partner level, we have recently set aspirational gender diversity targets, including the aim to increase the percentage of female equity partners to 30%. This is not a quota but an aspirational target.