The number of mothers with dependent children in the workplace is steadily rising – hitting 4.9 million mothers in 2017, compared to 3.7 million in 1996 – but the same positive sentiment is yet to extend to the STEM industries.
A recent study discovered that 43 percent of women and nearly a quarter (23 percent) of men will leave their full-time STEM job after having their first child.
Supporting parents in the workplace isn’t just a fluffy, nice-to-have concept. It’s a key component of your staff retention strategy.
You’ve likely heard stories of global corporates offering glossy parental perks like paid-for nannies during business travel or a lactation room for mothers, like at Google, but supporting working parents doesn’t have to mean generous budgets and slick solutions.
Here are 6 simple (and affordable) steps you can take to support parents in your workplace.
A parent’s average weekday is punctuated by pick-up, drop-off and countless other times to manage. And this can get even worse during the summer holidays when juggling kids’ attendance at various summer camps or childminders.
Letting employees work flexibly – be that by coming in or leaving work at different times, working from home or at another remote location – can make a huge difference, both in practical terms and in reducing emotional stress. And it’ll help parents work more efficiently, too.
Childcare can be painfully expensive; helping to reduce these costs can go a long way in recruiting and retaining talent.
It may be worth looking into forming a partnership with a childcare provider to agree to a discount for employees. You could take it one step further and explore having an on-site creche, or at least the option for employees to occasionally bring their child into work in the case of childcare emergencies.
All too often, the option of a workplace creche can be marketed solely to female staff, making an assumption that the child’s primary caregiver will be it’s mother. Ensure you’re following a gender-balanced parental leave policy (where both parents are entitled to equal leave) with a gender-balanced childcare policy that both mothers and fathers benefit from.
Build a community
Though deeply rewarding, being a parent can be incredibly challenging at times, too. Creating a sense of community between working parents can be a powerful way to bring colleagues together, share tips and support one another (you never know, there may be a way to share the odd school run or two). Creating a #parents channel on Slack or an email group is a simple step to help do this. You could even promote the community offline with a ‘bring your kids to work day’ or similar.
Set an example
Much of a workplace’s outlook and attitude is defined by its senior leadership figures. If you’re a manager with children, mention them in your day-to-day conversations, whether that’s your toddler taking their first steps or teenager passing their driving test. Don’t shy away from openly adapting your work schedule to fulfil parental commitments like attending a parents’ evening or sports day.
Out of office messages can also be a good opportunity to promote a culture where working parents feel able to fully switch off from work and enjoy time with their families. Rather than just having a standard message stating when you’ll be back, consider adding in a line mentioning that you’re currently away with your kids and won’t be checking emails. And when the shoe’s on the other foot and you’re emailing someone on leave, consider marking emails as non-urgent in the subject line (or just wait until they’re back in the office to discuss).
Parental leave is great, especially as it becomes more balanced between genders, but being out of work for months on end can be alienating. Keep in touch with new parents regularly and invite them in every few months to touch base with the team. And don’t forget to let them know any major team developments, as well as bearing in mind how they could be affected when making the decision.
Lastly, measure the impact of your efforts by tracking retention rates of new parents and regularly circulating surveys that take the pulse of how parents in the workplace are feeling.
Ultimately, open up the conversation and be compassionate – many employees will readily tell you what is working and what could be better.
P.S. Have you read our co-founder Kirsty’s blog post on being a working mum?