If employers REALLY want more men to take Shared Parental Leave here’s how

What if employers invited expectant fathers to tell them they are expecting a baby? How might this affect the take-up of Shared Parental Leave?

“They’re just hasn’t been the take-up we thought there would be,” is what I hear most often when I ask clients and HR practitioners about shared parental leave. This week at a WISE Campaign knowledge share event on flexible working Eleanor Silverio, UK Benefits Policy Lead at Shell, was candid about their low take-up of SPL at Shell. She explained that in their experience fathers are not actively seeking to be primary carers home alone with baby, and those who do take SPL leave are doing so for other reasons. These reasons may include practical necessity such as a mother with an injury or a desire to take a sabbatical. An HR Director I spoke to a couple of years ago took additional paternity leave (APL), as it was then, to address troubles with his ageing parents and APL was a good vehicle for taking time out. It was not out of a desire to care for his son instead of being at work.

The barriers to men taking SPL have been well-documented (the two biggest ones being lack of financial viability, as men are on average the higher earners, and it going against cultural norms). In a piece I wrote three years ago on the business benefits of active fathers I argued that SPL would flop unless parental leave was sliced into three with a proportion dedicated to the father on a use-it-or-lose-it basis that is well paid. This would serve to speed up cultural change.

But who wants cultural change? Do employers? A shift towards co-parenting and it being equally likely a father takes a significant period of leave to care for his baby as a mother is good for women’s careers and children’s development. HOWEVER, it doesn’t make sense for individual employers to expend much energy convincing their daddy employees to take SPL unless:

1.      The mother of their child is an employee at the same organisation and

2.      She occupies a middle to senior role and

3.      The organisation is keen to keep female brains in the business (because they’re aware of the commercial benefits of a gender-balanced senior team).

If employers really do want fathers to take-up SPL they need to start asking these employees to let them know that they are expecting. This is the start of cultural change and can be achieved through some simple internal comms, including stories of high profile men in the organisation or wider industry who have taken time out. This raises awareness of what SPL is, that it’s OK to take it and how it could be of benefit to the individual. Women returning from maternity leave are fresh, motivated and come with  new perspectives and solutions to their organisation’s challenges – and with support they quickly return or exceed their previous peak performance. They’re assets and it’s about time we treated them as such and encouraged fathers to get in on the act too.

The Talent Keeper Specialists are in the business of keeping, engaging and boosting the performance of returning employees be they on maternity, adoption, shared parental, sick leave or sabbatical. We want to do more work with fathers and hope the profile of participants at our Comeback Community workshops changes to include more men over the next five years.

This post was first published on LinkedIn 2/3/17. Today, 18/2/18, the UK Government has announced a ‘Share the Joy’ campaign to encourage more men to take Shared Parental Leave.

Flexible Father – Richard Cahill

This post is part of our #FlexibleFathers series and we’re spinning the spotlight on tax specialist Richard Cahill who had a job offer withdrawn when he reiterated his need for flexible working. Richard has worked for Grant Thornton, Lloyds Bank, JP Morgan and Hilton.

The Talent Keeper Specialists believe flexible working is a business tool for increasing employee engagement, pumping up productivity and driving down real estate costs. It’s time for flexible working to go mainstream and for the world to move on from seeing it as the preserve of women with primary school children.

Richard, you wrote openly on LinkedIn about your experience of a job offer being withdrawn when you reiterated flexible working preferences. Why did you do that?

I was, frankly, fed up!

At the turn of the year, my wife and I sat down to discuss how we would cope with our eldest child going to school and what our family dynamics should look like.  We decided I would take on the role of picking up/dropping off at school and all that entails.

So, when a company who had actively pursued me on LinkedIn showed some interest in me, I told them upfront about the hours that would work for me. Throughout the process, I kept reminding them that the hours were more important than money and that the flexibility offered was one of the main attractions to the role.  They continued to say the hours were fine and when the offer came I was surprised the hours had been increased from 28 (what was discussed from the beginning) to 36!

I wrote back saying I was keen to work for them and asked if they could review the offer given what we had agreed.  I chased them up a week or so later to be told that after some discussion within the firm, they thought I was ‘not ready for the role’!

I was angry, and wanted somewhere to vent that anger.  People should know that this sort of practice is going on.  It’s discrimination, pure and simple.  I wanted to share this experience with others and see whether people related to it and boy do they!

How important is it that employers move away from thinking of flexible working as something primarily for mothers of young children?

That’s a great question.  It’s absolutely key that this whole agenda becomes gender neutral.  If you read the guff that companies, both big and small, churn out, saying that they believe in flexi working this, and employees welfare is paramount, in practice this has turned into this:

Women, traditionally, have been the ones to “take the hit” with regard to their careers, after having children.  Employers, are of the mindset that if they provide part time work to these women, then, condescendingly, they feel that they are doing a service to these women, offering them the chance to work and raise their kids.  Oh, lucky them!

However, these companies are also doing it because they feel that women will, incorrectly I must stress, be content with “their lot” and have no aspiration to move on.  They view men as the ones to have the urge to progress.

That is simply unfair and incorrect.  Women want careers as much as men.  Men are not simply entitled to a career because of their sex.  Women as well as men should be allowed to progress as far as their ability etc will allow.  Only by getting away from this old traditional view of “women’s part time work” and see flexible work for both parents, then we can actually progress as a society that truly supports the role that both parents can do within the family.  There are no set roles!

How would it benefit employers to ‘talk flex’ in job adverts and in interviews?

I feel that honesty is always the best policy.  If the role is truly a flexible one and someone can achieve every aspect of it and won’t be viewed in any other way than being integral to the business for what they do, then offer the role as flexible.

I think the problem starts where employers, in their drive to look good to potential employees, offer flexible employment.  However, once the person gets in the role, they quickly find that although they are only contracted to do, say 25 hours a week, the role demands far greater.  That “part time” role becomes full time on a part time salary – not what was advertised!

So, it’s crucial that employers talk the talk, but also walk the talk.

People are frightened to mention that they want flexible employment in interviews and feel that if they do say something, the role won’t be offered to them.  That’s wrong.  Employers have to open up about realistic expectations and they will find that their workforce engages better with the firm and productivity rises.

What do you think it will take for flexible working to become the norm?

It needs a shift in societal expectations, and that needs everyone on board.  So, not a lot then!

I think Government needs to give direction.  It needs people to realise that companies are only as good as their employees.  Companies need the best out of their employees and frankly, that does not mean that a 9-5 (if you’re lucky) culture is the only way.

What it needs is the realisation that people work best when they are happy and engaged in what they are doing.  In my world, that means that parents are able to be around for their children when needed, and allowed to work around the demands of the family.  That could be either mother or father, or even both.

In practice that means that people can work remotely, evenings when the kids are asleep, whenever they can to fit around family life.  I’m not saying that people haven’t been talking about this for a long time, I’m aware they have.  What is needed now is the shift in thinking that flexible work is not the sole domain of the mother.  It’s time we saw everyone as equals in all aspects of life.

How are you going to approach the ‘f’ word in future recruitment conversations?

So, I’ve said that honesty is the best policy.  I’ve also said that people are not getting roles when they talk about flexibility in their interviews, as happened to me!  Logic, therefore, would lead to a conclusion that I don’t mention it!

However, I’m not that kind of bloke.  I’m the son of a Yorkshire mum and say things as I find them.  I’ll continue to be up front and say what realistically works for me.  I wouldn’t want to work for a firm that did not view flexibility as a given.  I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to work for someone who appreciates me for being me the person, rather than me the robot who sits at a work portal for my allotted hours.

Employers have got to wake up and see that if the best person for the role wants flexibility that can work for them and improves their culture.  It’s a selling point to other potential members of the workforce – “look, here’s a firm that can actually show me that they value flexible working”!

What would you like employers and Government to do?

Government have got to drive the agenda.  They need to realise that by offering shared parental leave, this has opened the door to men, as well as women, being further engaged in their child’s upbringing.  However, once the 12 months are over, that doesn’t mean that the dad should go back to being the workhorse and the wife needs to ensure that she can juggle the housework as well as her career.  Those days are gone.  Move on.  Men can do housework, they can put kids to bed, they can cook!  Women can work, women can lead companies, and women can take on the world!

Government needs to help society realise this.  Society needs to get real.  Depending on the statistics you look at, but I saw one that said 54% of all households now have a female main breadwinner.  Even if you disagree with the statistic, it’s clear that women are going to achieve more and more in the workplace going forward.

What it means now is that family dynamics are changing and they need to be supported by the Government and employers to get it right.  Flexible employment is here to stay but in the future, it needs to be available to all.  I’m happy to be lending my voice to that call!

We thank Richard Cahill for speaking frankly and for his post on LinkedIn. Our founder, Jessica Chivers, made the business case for flexible working for all on BBC Breakfast last month. We run workshops on ‘managing flexibly’ and ‘career progression for flexible workers’ to help both line managers and individuals make flexible working work.

 

 

What is a returner programme?

A returner programme takes the concept of an internship and makes it relevant to people who have taken a career break and are looking to return to work. Typical programmes enable the individual to transition back into the workplace through a structured and specifically tailored programme. Participants either undertake a piece of relevant project work or step into a potentially available role providing them with the ability to demonstrate their suitability for longer term employment.

 

 

 

 

Is a returner programme relevant to my organisation?

Returner
If you agree with at least three of the following five statements, a returner programme is likely to be a useful tool for your organisation:

1. Your organisation has a stated goal (publicly or internally) of moving towards gender parity in specific areas or levels of your organisation.

2. There is a shortage of women in your industry.

3. Your CEO and/or executive team is aware of the link between gender diversity and increased financial performance.

4. Your organisation is struggling in one or more areas/levels to recruit and retain great* people.

5. Your internal or external recruitment team is failing to create gender balanced shortlists or you are hiring less women than you would like.

* We all have different definitions of what great is. We mean someone who delivers on agreed objectives and does it in such a way that other employees and clients would miss him or her if they left your business.

 

Which organisations are returner programmes NOT suitable for?
Returnship

  • Organisations who ‘measure’ who’s doing a good job by how much time they spend in the office
  • Organisations who are uncomfortable with the concept of flexible working
  • Organisations with a CEO who doesn’t know/believe research showing the link between gender diversity and profitability.

 

Why is it necessary to run a programme for returners?
Returnship

  • Most career returners have been applying to normal jobs and they don’t even get invited to an interview – this has resulted in a large talent pool that really wants to get back to work but is unable to do so. In a country with purported skills shortages it is crazy that we overlook this market.
  • Most jobs have countless applications and a recruiter or an internal resourcing team will short-list 4 or 5 for the line manager to review. The one with the CV gap is the one most likely to be taken off due to the biases. In 2012 there was a fascinating piece of research done in the US by a business called The Ladders[i]. Utilising scientific eye-tracking equipment they analysed how long the average recruiter looks at a CV, done over ten weeks. The average? Six seconds. And they look at your Current Title & Company and the Dates first. So if the first thing they see for a Returner is dates that highlight a break and no current employer then what hope is there for those six seconds?
  • There is still a stigma around flexible working in many organisations. Forward thinking businesses are embracing it, but overall far too many businesses suffer from presenteeism and clock watching. Many women when returning from a career break will require some form of flexibility in their role. Again during the recruitment process we are told that they are often uninvited to interview the minute they mention part-time or flexible working.

[i] http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-recruiters-look-at-during-the-6-seconds-they-spend-on-your-resume-2012-4?IR=T

 

Returnship
What’s the value of a returner scheme?
Returnship

We believe there are five key points of value.

For the organisation:

1. Talent and technical skills are on offer that your business may not have been able to access in your internal pipelines.

2. Candidates who have taken a break from their career bring diversity of experience  and thought to your business challenges.

3. Younger women want to see more, older women in their businesses; they want role  models and want to see working women at all stages of their career.

For the individual returner:

4. Participants are supported during the transition period through coaching and invaluable conversations with peers on the programme.

5. Delivery of a relevant and valued piece of work breeds self-confidence when seeking further employment. Participants go on to target roles commensurate with their skills and abilities.
Returnship

How long should it be, what should you pay?
Returnship 

There is no one size fits all approach to timing and pay.  Some schemes last 12 weeks, some 16 weeks and some are 6 months. Pay is usually dependent on what level of returner the organisation is seeking to attract. The best return to work programmes have had dual bandings if applicable to the talent presented. The most important thing is to ensure the returner, if hired after the programme, goes on to a salary that is commensurate with the role they are offered.
Returnship

If you would like to know more
Returnship

The Talent Keeper Specialists have partnered with Inclusivity (www.inclusivity.co.uk) to create a fresh, start-to-finish returner offering we think beats what’s currently on the market. From sourcing, screening and selection, through to induction, coaching and employability skills sessions during the programme.

If you’re not quite there yet and have cultural issues to tackle around flexible working or conscious/unconscious biases for example, let’s have a conversation. We design and deliver solutions to shape inclusive, positive workplaces. Please e-mail hello@talentkeepers.co.uk or call 01727 856169.

Talk to Jessica Chivers jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or call 01727 856169.

 

 

Employers benefit by ‘talking flex’ when recruiting

Employers benefit from talking flex

In this opinion post Jessica Chivers shares her views on the competitive advantage gained by employers who state upfront on job adverts and at interview that there’s scope to talk flexible working.

“Should I mention that I’m really looking for four days a week rather than FT?”

“Will I put them off if I ask about flexible working at interview?”

“At what point in the hiring process is it best to ask about flexible options?”

These questions, and variations of, are commonplace in executive coaching sessions where women are exploring how to move on and/or up in their career.

It strikes me that many employers are missing a very real competitive advantage by not placing the words “up for talking flexibility’ on job adverts seeking mid to senior professionals for full time roles. This is particularly relevant if the organisation has made a public commitment to increasing the number of women at the top of their business, as say McKinsey has done. The employer is under no obligation to offer flex but by including these words, they’ve probably doubled the pool of people who might apply. A winning strategy, surely?

As an aside, McKinsey have just revealed their latest gender equality research (in conjunction with LeanIn.org) and show that women’s journey to the top is still appallingly slow. Change needs to come quickly.

In reality the onus is all too often on the candidates’ shoulders to ask about flexibility, and with so many stories about women noticing a negative change in the recruiter when they ask, it’s no wonder women hold back from applying for FT roles.

Where jobs adverts make no mention of flexibility, it would be useful if the recruiting manager ‘put it out there’ at the start of the interview (and not just when they’re interviewing females of a certain age – men want more flex too). “We’re advertising for a full time member of the team to be based predominantly in Manchester but depending on who we meet, there’s scope for the role to be done flexibly. We can talk about that further down the line.” There, easy.

I’m noticing a growing problematic pattern of women ‘choosing’ to stay in jobs they’ve outgrown because it gives them the flex they want (or more likely need) to be able to have a decent, wholesome family life where kids get help with their homework and at least one meal gets eaten together as a family.* There’s a belief that the only way to maintain this flex is to put it on hold, work full time for a new employer and prove oneself again (a hazy concept, but that’s an issue for another post) and then negotiate flex. The difficulty with this is it’s usually not that easy to switch to being an FT worker if you have children too young to have a key to the front door. For starters, the chances are you won’t be able to up your childcare to cover it.

A final point to ponder: could it be that the journey towards gender balance at the top of our organizations is slow because women are staying put when it’s time to move on? That they’re sacrificing stretch for flex and just not going after the next job? Giving women and men permission to discuss flexible working could be the key to change.

I’m optimistic that smart employers will soon start to print words to the effect of “up for talking flex” on their job ads and that their businesses will be all the better for it. I suspect we need some ballsy HR Directors to tap their CEOs on the shoulder to make it happen. Are you out there?

What do you think? Are you explicit about flexibility in your recruitment activities? Have you asked about flexibility at interview and had a good response?

 

* Yes, there are people without children who crave flex too. There are people with horses that need turning out each morning, there are people with elderly caring responsibilities and there are people who just want to have a darn good time at the weekend living a different life by the sea. They all want or need flex too and if they can get the job done without having their backsides on their swivel chair from 8.30-5.30pm every day then why not?)

 

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