How to support working parents with an inclusive office culture

Black and white image. Depicts the back of parents standing either side of a child with umbrellas.

Wondering how to support working parents with an inclusive office culture? You are one of the good people managers! We see fund collections all the time at Collection Pot for new parents- and those who contribute are as varied as other parents who may be struggling to have it all, from teammates championing a decision to come back, and also from managers who are doing their very best to make an inclusive workspace that recognises there should be less of a sacrifice between the roles required in a family and at a business.

As you may have heard, when it comes to inclusivity – working mums and working dads are struggling.

You may have seen that mums are going to work in higher numbers than in any equivalent quarter over the last 20 years, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However, there are also studies from The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) showing that 54,0000 new mothers have been driven out of jobs.

How can we all better support working parents with a company culture shift?

We explore the key areas of an inclusive office culture for new parents. 

(Please note that within the piece, we often refer to mums and dads, especially from research reports. We do not make assumptions that all parents are biological parents and assume that there is only a mum and dad. When reading the terms mum or dad, please replace as appropriate with carer, guardian, parent, caregiver, grownup or responsible adult.)

The broken ‘new parent’ narrative

New parents aren’t just adapting to less sleep and more episodes of The Wiggles – they are also adapting to less respect, even if they work somewhere with what seems like a great company culture.

It’s part of how we see parents. Baby brain, brain fog, mummy brain, dad bod – the words we use all indicate that working mums and working dads may not be welcomed back with open arms to the workplace they left.

The narrative is that they won’t be able to cope with their work or be willing to be away from a child as much as a job will need.

While the ‘post-baby’ exclusion affects new dads too, the stats suggest that women are disproportionately affected.

According to the 2022 Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace Report:

·  Women leaders are more likely to report that being a parent has played a role in them being denied or passed over for a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.

·  While 49% of women leaders say flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company, this is only key for 34% of men leaders.

·  Women are significantly less likely to state that their workplace is an inclusive workplace. 75% of female employees said their workplace is inclusive, compared to 88% of male employees.

With the problem identified and hard to dispute – it’s time for solutions. Here are some options to consider if you want to create an inclusive office culture for working parents.

1. Hybrid working / compressed hours / flexible hours

As you may have seen in the news, employees now have the right to request flexible working from day one on the job and flexible work options, including hybrid working, are one of the best ways to support parents.

·  Hybrid working – meaning ‘in the office or at home’ to many – is an arrangement where employees can choose to work partly in the workplace and partly outside. For example, they may opt to come into the office two days a week but spend the remaining three days working from home. It focuses more on the location.

·  Flexible working is more focused on how often they work. With flex, they work over evenings, weekends, or in chunks of time at the office or home as they wish.

·  Then there are compressed hours – instead of working eight hours a day for five days a week; they may work ten hours a day for four days.

Working Families, the UK’s national charity for working parents and carers, has been championing the idea of flexible working for over four decades; and they say the evidence is there that this supports families but is also beneficial to workplaces.

In Flexible working trials by leading construction firm Skanska in conjunction with Timewise, it was shown that a change to focus on output had ‘no detrimental effect on budget or quality’. In fact flexible work  ‘was attributed to better working relationships and collaboration.’

The Flexonomics report found that flexible working already contributes £374 million in income tax and National Insurance contributions above the tax receipts without flex. Current levels of flexible work deliver £37 billion a year to the UK economy, which could rise to £55 billion if flexible working was increased by 50%.

There are other options too.

Scouts Scotland showed that using compressed hours as a benefit helped them increase the volume of job applications and decrease sickness-related absences from 153 days per quarter to 8 days per quarter. Working dads and working mums are proving that hybrid works for them. Is now the time to change?

2. Ensure you have a gender-neutral family policy

Policies vary wildly, but to err on the side of generosity is a smart move. You might offer a change of contract terms from ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ to ‘parent’. E.g. “We offer 12 weeks’ paid leave to any new parent following the arrival of their child.”

You might also want to ensure that this covers all secondary caregivers – this can be the father in a heterosexual or same-sex couple or a mother in a same-sex couple but who has not given birth and therefore is not covered by a maternity leave policy. Again, if in doubt, consult someone in the legal team to advise on how best to proceed.

3. Launch a senior sponsor programme

Women are at risk of what is known as a ‘leaky corporate pipeline’. In short, this is the idea that women aren’t passed over consciously for new roles and opportunities, but due to a deep-seated bias that makes leaders believe they may not be suited to the role due to their new position as a mum or carer.

Stats show that engaging in career conversations earlier before the arrival of a child can help stop these leaks and keep things on track. This starts with elevation in the business of career conversations before, during and after the birth of a child. Keep-in-touch calls should be a good use of 15 minutes, but an in-depth discussion on what could be ahead and options on return without fear of judgement.

In a 2018 report, The Pipeline Predicament: Fixing the Talent Pipeline from Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business, looked at 185 studies. It discovered that women lack ‘adequate access to the relationships that career-building often hinges on: having the right mentors, role models and internal networks are often crucial to career mobility.’

Stemming the bias of what women are ‘good for’ after they become parents or carers is a huge step forward for great businesses.

By engaging senior sponsors within the company who can have open conversations at the highest level of the organisation, there’s somewhere for new parents to go. As a result, new parents are championed and raised, and the company has confidence that bias isn’t seeping into culture.

4. Be aware of failings in language or process.

Mansplaining trended as a topic a few years ago; most women will have a story about being spoken over in a meeting. Dads trying to find balance with more time at home may also be overlooked in discussions. There should be a real effort to step in if groups are excluded. This starts with how meetings are chaired – interruptions shouldn’t be tolerated, ideas shouldn’t be stolen or discredited, and there should also be a language check.

How to create an inclusive office culture for working parents? It starts with looking at even the interactions you think would be good for parents.

“The mums will need to leave early, I bet!”

“Hey, I think the dads might be unable to make the 3 pm call.”

While well-meaning with the intent to create fairness, it’s vital in any area of your business that everyone tries hard not to erase certain groups with language or to lump together all people within a particular group,

5. Job shares

Hybrid working is one way of making a parent’s life more flexible and inclusive, but what about a job share?

Job sharing is where two (or more) employees divide a job between them to cover one full-time role. Pay, benefits and leave entitlement for job sharing are allocated on a pro-rata or proportional basis (divided approximately by hours worked) of the full-time salary. Simply put, a job share is where two part-time workers do one job.

The benefits for working parents and companies are vast. The coverage is complete at the job. Holidays are covered, and there can be two people for one role offering different perspectives and takes. This is a fantastic way to squire great employees and offers them a way to thrive in a senior position before adjusting their hours later as and when required.

These are just a few ideas for the vast topic and an ever-changing subject of research on how to support working parents. We hope this has provided food for thought and, as ever, welcome your feedback.