Supporting women in work – more than just CSR box-ticking
As we celebrate International Women’s Day Kate Keaney, CEO of the People and Change experts Connor talks about the benefits of supporting women through maternity and career breaks and how coaching women returners through these incredibly important life transitions are valuable in many ways.
The Government’s recent proposal to extend protection for women on maternity leave is a welcome development. The proposal would mean women on maternity leave are given priority over suitable alternative vacancies should their role be made redundant. This proposed change in employment legislation could benefit diversity in the workplace and has the potential to improve female talent retention. Many organisations are now also into the habit of equal pay reporting following legislation in this area too, and are getting underneath the issues that cause the gaps in pay between men and women.
The potential benefits of thinking broader and deeper about how to engage, enable and retain female talent make deep societal sense and solid business sense; FTSE350 companies with more gender-diverse executive teams have been shown to have 50% higher profitability on average than the least diverse.
Here are 2 key insights from my experiences:
Tackle the real reasons for female talent turnover
To create more diverse workplaces first understand the reasons females are leaving and/or not seeking promotion – Ernst & Young have reported that 10% of women don’t return after maternity, and a further drop of an additional 20% leave in the following two years. For one of our large public sector clients, over 50% of their female employees who were leaving voluntarily each year, were doing so within two years of maternity leave. So what’s going on?
It’s important to remember that an organisation’s talent does not exist in a vacuum. All employees’ careers are set in the context of their personal lives, and the significant events in those lives that affect their needs: maternity, caring for sick children or relatives, compassionate leave, or divorce, to name a few. As more of the population stays in the workplace for much longer, employees’ circumstances can change numerous times over the course of their career. Couple this with far greater knowledge and awareness of mental health and well-being challenges that play out for people over their working lives, and you have an environment where the way to support people in work today is very different to previous decades.
Actively support your people through their life transitions
The good news is that many organisations are providing short- to mid-term support to people who are going through significant life transitions, to help them cope effectively. At Connor we are often engaged to design and run initiatives aimed specifically at women returners; for all of the changes in balancing parental leave, the greatest percentage of the workforce who take significant time out for families is still women. During this time, it’s important that tailored support is provided and more and more organisations also recognise the value these programmes have in lately reducing female attrition. Equally, there are more and more organisations talking to us about supporting men and women alike through transitions in their lives which is an incredibly positive change. Coaching all employees through significant life transitions enables talented people to blend their home and working lives more harmoniously together.
At Connor we are seeing a sharp increase in organisations speaking to us about building bespoke programmes to support women maternity returners. Popular topics within these programmes include better flexible working programmes and policies, coaching services for women whilst on maternity leave to support them through these significant life events, organisation and role design services to help re-design job roles to better suit true part-time working, helping line managers understand how to best support maternity returners, and offering confidence training for women who want to improve their confidence after a duration out of their organisation