I recently had the absolute privilege of joining 100 women – and about three men – at Careering into Motherhood live. Bringing together a community of individuals and employers working towards a world where motherhood and ambition can happily co-exist. We shared stories, insights, and advice with a view to creating a brighter, more equitable future. As well as providing practical support to help each other navigate the reality of a working world that is still not designed for working parents.
Apart from the joy of being in a (real life) room full of working mothers and all the strength, resilience and excellent jokes that comes with that, this was a day full of education and inspiration I had to share.
I’ve heard three is the magic number, so here’s my three thought-provoking moments from the day.
1. System change is a long-haul project. But change can and is happening.
Sometimes I feel like we’re peddling up a hill in the wrong gear. Especially when almost half of UK working mums believe their chances of promotion have been negatively impacted by asking for flexible work arrangements (Careering into Motherhood, 2023). We’re nearly three generations on from equal pay legislation in the UK. How can this be true?
But then I looked around the room. And listened to women like JLL UK CEO Stephanie Hyde tell us “you can go part-time and end up as Chief Executive” and my heart sings. Stephanie and I aren’t so different in age. We both attended ‘promotion ready’ courses that included people telling you what to wear and how to speak to be accepted as a woman in a corporate (read: man’s) world.
Now I sit and hear that shared parental leave and a package of support for working parents are becoming an expected benefit in the UK. Something that’s long been true in parts of Europe and is increasingly a way to differentiate your employer brand globally. The real progress for me is the approach is grounded in an honest appreciation that every family looks different. And perhaps most importantly that supporting working families isn’t all about maternity. IVF, adoption, miscarriage, caring responsibilities, extended family support – the list is endless.
By taking a person-centred, flexible approach with empowered and supported line managers, employers are creating exceptional employee experiences in even the toughest of times. And it is always worth saying that is as much a commercial investment as it is a moral issue.
2. You can get off the escalator. Our working lives are long enough to take some changes of pace.
At Home, we’re all about the employee experience from hire to retire. We sometimes illustrate that as a linear diagram. But we know it’s almost always much squigglier than that.
Some people will want to keep pushing for promotion as their number one priority whatever their personal life looks like. That’s great. But if you’re having conversations about talent gaps in your business, it might be time to take a fresh look at your approach to development.
Does your talent pipeline focus on the people pushing up? Or does it make space for a more diverse group – including people who want to pause progress and deliver in a role where they feel confident while home needs more of them? Or who don’t want to take on a bigger role or team, but do want to find a new challenge they can deliver within their personal boundaries.
I was the latter. And I felt sidelined because I needed to set new boundaries and had to re-evaluate what I wanted from my career. In my case, big corporate’s loss was Home and my own home’s gain. How many other women have dropped out of your talent pipeline and might be looking elsewhere for that new challenge?
3. You can’t get there on your own
This is as true of the leadership and People teams, as it is the parents. It can be easy to feel like you carry the responsibility of the world. That the stakes are too high to allow for failure. Whether that’s proving you can create the perfect parental leave strategy while you have that change window, or finding the perfect balance because your children only start school once. You might know the feeling – have you baked the cake, run the marathon, and impressed at the board meeting? All with an effortless smile of course.
We’re all still learning.
It’s healthy to embrace failures. To help, find your allies and be open to coaching and support as you face new challenges and the latest phase (right now I’m potty training, having a confidence wobble 6 months into a career move and pretending to be interested in Star Wars Top Trumps in case you’re interested). It’s tough, but important to value and invest in your support team – whether that’s trusted friends, colleagues, mentors, or a professional coach.
The bottom line?
More than half of working people are parents. This is talent you can’t afford to ignore. And we are not going anywhere quietly. The good news? You don’t need deep pockets to become a destination employer for working parents. Yes, shared, well-funded parental leave and childcare investment are the headlines. But many of us are seeking trust, a little flexibility on when and where we work, respect for our long-term commitment and understanding that every family looks different. Which last time I checked doesn’t cost a penny in any currency.
Need a little help understanding what your employees think of your approach to working parents? We’d love to talk.