Diversity And Inclusion Strategy: Working Parent Programmes To Retain And Engage Employees

communication at work d&i strategies managing working parents return to work May 19, 2022

What is a working parent programme?

This is an initiative employed by innovative organisations who recognise that the transition to parenthood is a critical, high-risk period, which often creates professional stress and disruption, derailing professional lives and burdening business with attrition and sick leave.

An effective working parent programme not only focuses on the number of weeks for maternity and paternity leave, it uses a holistic, systemic approach which pays attention to:

  • New mothers so that they can tackle this often-tricky transition with confidence, deem it possible to return to work and then remain engaged and energised at work.
  • New fathers so that they can maintain a healthy work-family balance while achieving their professional goals, minimising feelings of overwhelm and guilt which can lead to sickness and, in some cases, resignation.
  • Line managers and team leaders, who need to be agile and adapt to frequently changing needs of a team and movement of people, so that they can effectively implement new policies whilst maintaining high performance.
  • Biases and the unspoken culture in an organisation, which can be the greatest obstacle to successfully implementing any inclusive initiatives.

Why have a programme specific to parenthood?

75% of individuals become parents - it is a significant proportion of an organisation’s workforce to positively influence to stay engaged and energised at work.

31 years old - average age of women in Europe to become a first time parent.

30-35 years old - organisations typically start developing their future leaders and identifying high potentials.

30-40% of female employees do not return from maternity break, or leave within the first 24 months.

From the reduced talent pool who do remain, a limited few may assume leadership/board roles: why? There are two primary reasons:

  1. Unconscious or conscious bias in the organisation, coupled with assumptions made that a woman who is now a mother will not be suitable/want to be in leadership.
  2. A significant proportion of women choose not to seek promotion/leadership roles for fear of the compromise of their work/ family balance. It is seen as too high risk and career takes second place.

The pool of women available for future leadership or board roles becomes even smaller. This is no longer a female issue - this equally applies to men who want to be hands-on fathers.

This is why each forward-thinking organisation needs a working parent programme.

Having established the benefit and the need for such an initiative, what gets in the way of it being a successful initiative to increase the number of skilled, experienced women adopting key, strategic roles, decrease the number of fathers who may opt-out and minimise stress being transferred to line managers?

What gets in the way?

The problems arise when the working parent programme focuses purely on the parents alone. Even parents who receive the best coaching and training to successfully help them navigate this challenging transition, returning to work motivated by their professional aspirations, cannot always apply all they have learnt when they return to their departments which are entrenched in established ways of doing things.

If their environment is one where their manager makes assumptions that they no longer are suitable for a critical project (based on biases and/or assumptions), flexible working is purely a policy and not implemented by any successful leader, the most committed is the one who turns off the lights when they leave and any networking is done in the evenings; most individuals start to lose their motivation and desire to be promoted.

Essentially, a parent has less power to change the system surrounding them than that system has to shape them and their career path.

The idea that organisational systems – which define roles, responsibilities and relationships - have a strong impact on individuals’ mindsets and behaviour, is supported by a number of studies conducted by Harvard Business School. Research (by Amy Edmondson of HBS & Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon) also shows that organisations need “fertile soil” in place before the “seeds” of coaching & training interventions can grow.

So what defines “fertile soil”? It is an environment where people feel free and safe to speak up, and where senior management visibly champion policies to ensure flexible working, to challenge bias’ that exist in the organisation and to “walk the talk” with inclusivity. This is because such efforts motivate their managers and teams to learn and change, to challenge their own bias’, to foster improvements in the culture and nurture new ways of being at work.

How can organisations therefore ensure that the working parent programme is successful?

Accompanying the transition to parenthood requires a change in assumptions, beliefs, behaviour and motivations on the part of the parents concerned.

The same can be said for organisations – they also need to look at what assumptions, unconscious bias and limiting beliefs exist culturally; to enable them to create a system which supports true diversity.

When we work with forward-thinking organisations, who recognise the need to focus on this group post an initial analysis, we advise the following approach:

  1. The senior leadership team outlines its strategic direction, with clearly defined SMART goals around diversity and the values that it wants the organisation to live by. The leadership buy into these goals and make themselves accountable, communicating them to the whole group.
  2. Confidential and anonymous feedback is solicited by Thriving Talent from those groups impacted directly by parenthood (managers & employees), to understand their pain points and challenges; and to harvest ideas on what they need to stay energised and engaged.
  3. The leadership team review the insights and observations consolidated by Thrive, directly hearing the “voices” of their organisation so that there is no denial of the “silent killers” with this systemic view.
  4. The leadership address what management practices and leadership behaviours (that shape the system today) need to change; in parallel to identifying what training and coaching is needed to respond to the feedback from the managers and employees, plus any logistical enhancements on site(s).
  5. Coaching and process consultation, coupled with training (combining e-learning and face to face) helps the organisation become more effective.
  6. Success in changing behaviour is gauged using new metrics with a system to evaluate the impact of the working parent programme.

If you would like to understand more about this initiative, then please contact us and we can help you explore the idea further.

If you have successfully implemented such an initiative, we would love to interview you to highlight your organisation as a role model in what is possible when you pay attention to the voices and needs of your employees.


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.




© 2022 Thriving Talent Sarl