The mental health benefits of keeping in touch on maternity leave

It is well documented that having a baby is stressful. Heart-expanding and magical and incredible but also brain-bendingly exhausting too. Until you become a parent – in fact until you become a mother – it’s nigh on impossible to grasp the transformation you will go through.

Overnight, you go from being an independent woman, living your best life, free to pursue your dreams and hobbies, to being a one-woman milk machine, rarely seeing the shower and developing an obsession with sleep that’s borderline worrying.

We’re all about supporting people prior to, during and after long leave at The Talent Keeper Specialists, so for this article we’ve dug a little deeper to discover: what is it about maternity leave in particular that is so challenging? How can keeping in touch with work mitigate its effects?

Our research shows the following three things are key to mental wellbeing and they’re things we can keenly miss when we’re away from work:

  • Connection
  • Stimulation
  • Control

While you are utterly absorbed by the demands and needs of your baby, there’s a side of your brain that isn’t being stimulated in the same way that it is used to. Career aspirations, skills and specialities are on hold and for a time, that’s fine. But temporarily losing that sense of making a contribution, or the financial, social or intellectual satisfaction that comes from work, can take its toll. You’re craving control but you don’t know where to find it. At the same time, your core values come sharply into focus.


Why should bosses care about maternal mental health?

If you consider that half the workforce is female, and 80% of these employees are parents or going to become parents, it’s crucially important that we look after them for the relatively short time they are on maternity leave.

The statistics on PND are humbling and relevant to all employers. Postnatal depression affects one in ten mothers. According to a survey by the RCOG, 81% of women in a survey of 2,300 had experienced at least one episode of a mental health problem during or after their pregnancy. Low mood was experienced by more than two thirds of these women, anxiety by around half and depression by just over a third. But with only 7% of the women who reported experiencing a maternal mental health condition being referred to specialist care, it’s clear that employers should be playing a more active role in helping their valued members of staff.

Sybille Raphael, Head of Legal Advice Services at Working Families, also warns that it could be unlawful sex discrimination if employers don’t keep in reasonable contact with the staff on leave. She says that keeping in touch, ideally by telephone rather than email, makes it easier for employees to explain their worries and prepare for their return to work.

You’ll want to be sure you played your part. It could well be the difference between retaining a valued member of staff or losing her.


 CONNECTION: How can a boss help their employee on maternity leave?

Reach out. We all know that ‘it takes a village to raise a baby.’ By actively including and communicating with your member of staff during her maternity leave, you’ll be playing your role in keeping her connected and confident. Ensure she is included in both formal and informal office news and updates. She can choose to ignore these, but it’s more likely she’ll be reassured that she is still part of the world of work and know that it is not moving ahead without her. She’ll feel that pull back to her previous life and feel connected. You don’t need to ask her to engage actively, but if she has opened the email, it has been worth it. You will have made that day at home with her baby, a better one.

It’s also so important to recognise that everyone’s experience of motherhood is utterly different. Some will breeze through it with healthy, happy babies and plenty of support. Others will be hit with unpredictable hormonal changes and depression. Others will be raising poorly babies who cry non-stop and never seem to sleep or settle, with no help from family or otherwise. Keeping in touch on a human-to-human level will help you know how and when to support your cherished member of staff.


STIMULATION: The impact of loneliness on new mums

Loneliness creeps up on new mothers. Even though mums are never truly alone (and are probably craving real solitude) long days without adult company can be gruelling. Once the initial flurry of visitors, cards and presents is over and their partner returns to work, the real labour of parenthood begins. Not only are they physically alone, they are emotionally carrying the enormous burden of responsibility for their tiny little bundle.

It can be boring too, churning through the relentless cycle of feeding, changing, napping, interspersed with moments of true joy and utter delight. Even though they adore this little human, it is overwhelmingly dull at times and they will be craving adult conversation. They are likely to feel sad that they are missing out on life with colleagues and friends. It’s also incredibly common to resent their partner for escaping off to the office (even if that is only upstairs at the moment).

This is where KIT days are so valuable. For a new mother to attend a KIT day, she will have had to redress the balance of power at home, and to have trusted another individual to care for her baby. This is huge the first time around. She’ll arrive at work and plunge into her old life for a day. More often than not she will find that to be a relief, a re-engaging process that allows her to remember her professional self and enjoy the intellectual and social stimulation that goes alongside work.


CONTROL: Keeping in touch helps your employee feel less anxious

Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government  says that companies must work harder to keep in touch with women on maternity leave. He says that women find it harder to maintain the momentum of their careers on their return to work, especially when male colleagues happily step in and ‘land grab’ the best clients. He made the point that employers wrongfully assume women don’t want to be in touch with projects or clients during their leave. All this adds to the stress load felt by women who fear losing control or status during their absence. By ensuring they have the option to attend key client meetings or performance reviews on KIT days, they’ll maintain their hard-earned status.


What if you have postnatal depression? How do you tell your boss?

Of course, no-one is obliged to share their PND. But if you feel strong enough to do so, it can help. The NCT advises women to keep in touch with their colleagues and boss if they are suffering, to help you feel less anxious about returning to work. PND is so common that it is highly likely your boss will have either first-hand experience of it themselves, or helped others cope with it on their return to work. Most companies have excellent mental health procedures in place; after all, no-one wants to lose great employees.


Returning to work can be a relief

Going back to work really can be a break from the emotional and physical labour that looking after a baby entails. You are afforded the freedom to focus, uninterrupted on an intellectual challenge. You get to talk to your ‘work family’ without the constant background narrative in your mind worrying about the next feed or sleep. You get to progress your career and satisfy that urge to excel. Heck, you even get to drink a cup of coffee without having to reheat it three times!


Supporting employees’ return to work

Executive comeback coaching helps employees identify and address any concerns or issues they have about their return to work. Executive Coaching also helps employees better understand their value and potential to the business and, through a personal action plan, supports their transition back to work. Find out more.

Got a question about supporting colleagues taking maternity leave? E-mail or find us on Twitter and Instagram @talentkeepersuk.

APPG Women & Work Report 2017

Are you struggling to find the right people for the vacancies in your organisation? Is gender diversity on your agenda? Last year we hosted a ‘hidden talent action tank’ to help employers tap into the increasing number of skilled women who want to come back to work after an extended break. This week, we attended the launch of the ‘Women and Work’[1] report from a cross-party group of MPs and bring you the highlights from an employer perspective. 


The report makes nine recommendations, three are aimed at employers: 

5. Every workplace with 250 or more employees should have a carers policy detailing organisational support available for those with caring responsibilities. 

This could be cumbersome and unnecessary. In our experience what really matters to employees is being trusted to get the job done and being trusted to use flexible working in a way that works for the organisation and meets family needs. Line manager behaviours are the lynchpin.

6. Every workplace with 250 or more employees should consider putting in place paid returner programmes or returnships with guaranteed training, advice and support. 

Returner programmes can be a useful tool but they‘re not right for every organisation. See “What is a returner programme?” for the key questions to decide if a returner programme is likely to fulfill your talent pool shortages. Direct recruitment from the hidden talent pool using ‘reverse headhunters’ such as Inclusivity may be a faster, better value option.

8. Employers should promote best practice through a flexible working kitemark with official accreditation and assessment to increase flexible working visibility and actively encourage the uptake of flexible working.

Many employers we talk to are struggling to recruit women into specialist, skilled and senior roles. Employees who have built social capital in their current organisation and have crafted a flexible working arrangement that works for them are reluctant to move. We discussed the problem of ‘trapped talent’ and flexible hiring on BBC Breakfast – watch the clip here. We believe employers will benefit from advertising roles as flexible and support the APPG’s recommendation.


Shared Parental Leave

Have you found it tricky to implement Shared Parental Leave in your organisation? You’re not alone. 77% of respondents to a CIPD survey said they had to access external advice to understand the process. This headache has been for little gain as another survey of 200 employers found only 1% of men had  taken the opportunity to share their partner’s parental leave.

The view at The Talent Keeper Specialists is that SPL was introduced to normalise men caring for their children and lessen the impact of having children on women’s careers. We believe the best way to achieve this – and make it easier for employers – is to divide parental leave into three chunks: one for each parent on a ‘use it or lose it basis’ and a third for either parent.



67% of mothers in work and 64% of those not working said the high cost of childcare is a barrier to taking on more employment. [2] The Government is increasing free childcare to 30 hours from September 2017 for working families, to address this.

Our view is that employers who are experiencing talent shortages could significantly widen their candidate pool by being open to flexible working, and making this clear to candidates at the point of hiring. Read “Employers benefit by ‘talking flex’ when hiring.”


Supporting maternity returners

You know the ‘cost’ of replacing an employee is more than just the recruitment fees. Keeping and fueling existing valued and talented employees should be a priority for business. The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched the ‘Working Forward’ campaign last autumn to make UK workplaces the best they can be for pregnant and new mother employees.

We run maternity comeback workshops for returning employees and a separate session for line managers. Find out more:


About The Talent Keeper Specialists

Since we started in 2012 The Talent Keeper Specialists have delivered on time, within budget and to glowing feedback from our clients and their employees at places such as Boots, Anglia Ruskin University, The Law Society of Scotland, The Institute of Chartered Accountants England & Wales, Boots, Enfield Borough Council, Oxfam, Channel 4, PayPal, Carillion and Twinings. We work with employers to shape inclusive workplace cultures and support the transitions of returning employees and women stepping into leadership roles. Watch our 2 minute film here:


[1]  The Women and Work APPG was formed at the beginning of 2016 in response to the increasing public and political focus on the role of women in the workforce, and the acknowledgement from Government that the UK economy underuses women’s talents and misses out on a “huge economic prize”.

[2] Careers and cares: childcare and maternal labour supply, Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, 2014

Bringing talent back – O2’s story

Over the summer we brought HR, D&I, Talent and Resourcing practitioners from organisations including Whitbread, EY, Accenture and Cap Gemini together to explore ways to uncover and bring back ‘hidden talent’. Thank you to Avanade & Accenture for hosting us and to O2 for sharing their story.

What and why a ‘hidden talent action tank’?

When Jessica Chivers wrote the book, Mothers Work! she discovered vast numbers of women were returning to jobs not commensurate with their skills and abilities (all tied up with the flexible working/presenteeism problem that pervades UK workplaces). Fast forward to 2013 we piloted a workshop for the Chartered Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales aimed at supporting the return to work of members on maternity leave. What actually happened was a full room of women, the majority of whom were not on maternity leave, but those hungry to get back to work after 2-10 years out. They were struggling because the gap on the CV meant they were being overlooked – hence their pouncing on a workshop about getting back to work.

Since then we’ve run swathes of free maternity comeback and career comeback workshops (which participants love and have travelled 100s of miles to attend) but they don’t address the heart of the problem – the need for Heads of Resourcing, Talent and D&I practitioners to see the problem and commit to action. There’s just too much talent going to waste and this is a problem on many levels, but commercially speaking it doesn’t make sense when there’s still a ‘war for talent.’ Hence the ‘hidden talent action tank’ to drive change through peer idea exchange, including a spotlight on returner programmes as one tool for bringing talent back.

O2’s returner programme

Andrea Jones, resourcing lead at O2, shared the telecoms giant’s experience of running a returner programme in the operations area of the business.

Many of us drew breath when she shared research stating most line managers would prefer to hire someone with less experience than a candidate who had been out of work for more than six months. “Six months!?” That’s less than most maternity leaves. The good news is the O2 scheme was hailed a rip-roaring success and The Talent Keeper Specialists expects more demand in 2016-2018 for returner programmes.

Key stats that drove O2’s decision to run a returner programme

  • Managers would rather hire less qualified candidate over one who has been out for over 6 months
  • Gender diverse companies are 45% more likely to improve market share, achieve 53% higher returns on equity, and 70% more likely to capture new markets
  • For every 10% increase in gender diversity in the senior executive team, there is a 3.5% increase in financial performance.
  • 42% of millennial dads feel ‘burnt out’ most or all of the time
  • 40% of working women earn more than their partners
  • 1 million now work past 65
  • Only 17% of over 50s favour traditional retirement pattern as majority want to ease into retirement via part-time work
  • 50-60% of women returners want to work part-time
  • 34%-48% of women would like to work part-time
  • 27% of the UK workforce work part time. Of those, 74% are women
  • 44% of Generation Y rate work-life balance as a key driver in their career


Ten golden nuggets for improving gender balance

We grappled with five questions in the ‘action’ part of the morning. People spoke with passion, others listened intently. Ten golden nuggets emerged for improving gender balance from the talent, HR, D&I and resourcing practitioners at the Action Tank:

  • 1) Confront lazy hiring – value finding the best talent over quick recruitment. This might mean looking in different places.
  • 2) Look beyond a candidate’s last role – many women’s careers aren’t linear and strengths are transferrable.
  • 3) Create more open job descriptions – countless capable candidates (internal and external) rule themselves out at the application stage because they don’t tick every box.
  • 4) See returners as assets – they’re fresh, motivated and hungry to put their minds to work. Returner programmes tap into ‘hidden talent’ and are a good news story for your business.
  • 5) Promote flexible working in job descriptions – and offer flexibility for employees already in business, not only after returning from maternity leave.
  • 6) Use gender balanced panels to make hiring decisions to reduce unconscious bias and avoid line managers hiring in their own image.
  • 7) Experiment with new recruiting processes, such as games, to assess people’s potential rather than relying on CVs.
  • 8) Focus on opening middle managers’ minds to how flexible and part-time working can fuel productivity and performance, and be of benefit to them personally.
  • 9) Showcase senior role models who work flexibly, recruit diverse teams and have high employee engagement scores – these are the people you want other managers to emulate.
  • 10) Don’t overlook introverts or make assumptions – actively encourage ‘quieter’ people (who may not talk openly about career aspirations)  to apply for promotions and stretch assignments.


6 pillars of success/what O2 learned:

  • Target a specific area of the business where there’s a need/desire to recruit more women.
  • Have clear benefits, timelines and costs for setting up – make it easy for the business to say yes
  • Ask for referrals to the programme from employees and partners (this went down ‘really well’ at O2)
  • Assessment centre to be a two-way process and the agenda to kept ‘light’ with lots of networking and senior leadership team to attend
  • Be flexible about how the roles work
  • Resourcing and the Diversity & Inclusion teams to work in partnership

A returner programme for your organisation?

If bringing talent back is on your agenda or you’re struggling to meet gender diversity targets, save yourself time, hassle and budget by meeting with us.

Contact Jessica Chivers to arrange a conversation: | @TalentKeepers on Twitter and Instagram and find us on LinkedIn  | +44 (0)1727 856169

Talent Fueller – Tim Loake, Dell

IMG_0227 (2)

Tim Loake, is a director at Dell and an ambassador for the Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) programme from Catalyst. He’s opening other men’s eyes to unconscious bias in the workplace to even the playing field for women.

“What is the MARC programme?

“It’s an attempt to engage the company, and the leadership in the company, top-down. Men advocating real change is what it stands for and that’s what it is.  As is typical of technology companies we are male heavy, although we do have female leaders including our chief customer officer. We don’t have enough though; we certainly don’t have balance.


MARC is about understanding our own unconscious bias and promoting a more inclusive leadership style up and down the company.”

What was the spark for MARC at Dell?

“Three or four of our leaders got involved in MARC as an external programme from Catalyst. They became ambassadors and persuaded Michael Dell and his direct reports that we needed to do something differently. The executive leadership team then went through the programme and it cascaded down. Because it had that Board level ‘buy-in’, people have never said it doesn’t matter, everyone is recognising that there is something we need to do differently and that it is a personal journey as everyone has their own bias and that everyone is in some way privileged versus everyone else.

Once you have recognised that you have some privilege, you can start to think about how your behaviour needs to be different and MARC is the start of that journey.

We’ve shared a number of videos with staff that highlight where we have unconscious bias. Until you recognise you have it, you don’t realise there is a problem. Watching these films is like turning a light on – you suddenly see that you have these biases, we all do – and people begin to realise they need to do something different.

‘Run like a girl’ is an example of one of those powerful films. Effectively it takes a bunch of young girls and asks them to run like girls, which they do and the point of the video is: when did ‘Run like a girl’ become an insult? It’s a very powerful video, particularly for anyone who has a daughter. Just showing that video to people opens their eyes and shows them that there is something that they might need to do differently.”

What does MARC look like in practice at Dell?

“It’s done in different ways at different levels. Within the Bracknell site, we had a full staff gathering after the leadership team had been through the programme. Everyone was invited and it was voluntary. We started simply by showing some films and asking people to start thinking about how they behave and how we behave as a society.

People often have very emotional reactions, and I’ve cried watching them. The film “Man Up,” is to do with male suicide rates and that’s one of the most destructive phrases in the English language. You can’t help but connect with the message and it gets the audience to a point where they want to do things differently.

As I watched it I kept thinking about my children and how I’ve inflicted gender bias on them without ever knowing it. And thankfully, they are at an age where I can undo that. I have two sons age 8 and 3 and there are things I do differently at home now and my wife as well – I’m much more conscious of my language.

Gender bias is rife in society, a view of what people can and should be able to do. Everywhere you go, there is bias. As parents and people we can only deal with the bias that we are aware of and that we can control.”

Why is the MARC movement important to you?

“Creating an inclusive environment where people are free to bring all of themselves to work and be whoever they are makes Dell a better place to work. If people feel valued and included, they will perform better. It will improve employee retention, it will improve employee performance, it should improve the attitude of our people towards our customers, suppliers, vendors and ultimately make our business more successful. That’s the nub of it. There are other side benefits around the markets in which we engage such as a diverse workforce developing products that match needs of all our customers and potential customers.

Has MARC been measured?

“No. A company like Dell measures everything but we’ve made a deliberate decision not to measure this. The only thing we measure is the amount of people who have been through the 4-hour training or the 2-day ambassador training. We have put 1300 people through the 4-hour training and we’ve now got just over 100 ambassadors. It’s a two-day investment, so director level and upwards are able to be ambassadors, because we want it to be leadership led as that has the biggest impact.

Being an ambassador is a choice. The 4-hour course is open to everybody and is run by ambassadors; normally two, a man and a woman. Beyond that, it’s really trying to advocate for the programme, to change opinion, to tackle stereotype bias in our own business, to try and recognise where privilege is playing a part in decision making – in hiring, in structuring or just in running the business.

Being privileged doesn’t make you wrong or bad or part of the problem, it’s just the group that you find yourself in and if you can recognise that, you can do something about it. As an ambassador hopefully my eyes are more open to when those things are occurring and I’m trying to do things differently and lead the way. Change in an organisation doesn’t start because you tell someone to do something different, it’s because you change the experiences that they have and therefore the perceptions that they hold and that will shape their future behaviour.

That’s why we focused on leadership in terms of the ambassador community because we have the biggest impact on the experiences that our teams and those around us have. And therefore we can change the behaviour of the organisation.”

Could you tell us about the things you’re doing beyond MARC

We do quite a lot of work in the community and ‘IT’s Not Just For Geeks’ is a 2-hour programme aimed at 14-16 year olds, held during school time by Dell employees to show them what working in IT is all about.

We also have a strong women’s network called WISE – Women in Search of Excellence, led by Aongus Hegarty (President of EMEA). WISE does a lot of work within the industry, in terms of engaging with external groups and trying to change and educate within the company on a very practical level. One very popular session WISE have run is a presentation skills workshop as that’s something many female colleagues have said they want.

Other programmes include PRIDE for our LGBT community, Mosaic, GenNext which is targeted at bringing young people into the business, Conexus for all our remote workers and Planet group which is about trying to become more environmentally friendly. We encourage everybody to try and be a member of one of these groups – to do something beyond coming to work, doing the job and going home again. * Link to all employee resource groups

Whats Next?

“It’s hard to see too far ahead due to the combination with EMC, but I’m sure they have programmes we can take advantage of and vice versa. The intent is very much to try and use all of these programmes and activities that we have going on to help create a new company culture as we bring tens of thousands of people together.

To be successful as a new business as quickly as possible, we’ll need to work together and harmonise the beliefs and value structures we have. The cultures are probably not that different but there will be work to do and I see programmes like MARC and the extension of it to the EMC community as well as engaging each other in our employee resource groups as a key way of helping to knock down those barriers.

I think for us it’s how we can leverage what we already have, in terms of established programmes and bring the communities together on both sides and use those as a lever to help create a new company culture for all of us which will allow us to be successful as we go forward as a new company.”

Involved fathers, committed professionals

Committed professionals can be involved fathersOn a recent project for the Law Society of Scotland we heard some great examples of men doing their very best to be active fathers whilst still delivering commercial goals. Here are men in their own words reflecting on how to get off to a good start as a new father. 

“Be involved, be upfront with clients, prioritise sleep.”

“Your kids are only young once. If you don’t read to them or put them to bed now, you never will. And the benefits to your mental health are amazing. If you are zombified by a poor night’s sleep, tell your clients. Most of them will understand. Those that do not are likely to be “those clients” anyway. Sometimes, moving to another room is a survival technique if you want an uninterrupted night’s sleep – just be prepared to make up for it in other ways. Keep a picture of your children in easy view in your office; if your clients/colleagues/whoever are difficult, a look at your kids will make you smile no matter what. If you hadn’t before, learn to say no and leave the office promptly from time to time. If the culture is such that you’re expected to be there all hours God sends, you probably need to re-examine your priorities. First day of school? Take the day off and be there for them.”

Senior male solicitor, private practice @longmores

Chea Meakins“Draw boundaries, be focussed, get home for bathtime.”

“My wife and I worked out a routine fairly early on after our daughter was born. I would always be home to do the evening bath (subject to the unavoidable marketing/seminar engagements, but I try to limit these to 1 per week where possible). This means that I always have to work to a deadline and leave work at a certain time. Without this there is always the temptation to stay that little bit longer because there is always something else that can be done… The bath/getting ready for bed routine means I am always guaranteed at least one hour with my daughter per day. This sounds so little on paper but in reality a lot can be achieved within that time. I usually get back home an hour before bath time so in practice I get 2 -2.5 hours. This is also a huge relief to my wife who appreciates me taking over at the end of the day for those last few hours.”

Che Meakins, Solicitor, Rayden Solicitors @RaydensLaw


“Eat together and have a planned weekly late night at the office.”

“I’ve been very lucky to be able to balance work and fatherhood to give me lots of time with my daughter, and I am now nearly a year qualified and I feel I have also progressed hugely as a solicitor in the same time.   As I live walking distance from the office I would go home most lunch times and see my wife and child. I tried to ensure that I took my lunch each day to guarantee this time at home. I also designated Thursday evening as a ‘late night’ which I would work late before heading to my regular football practice. This meant I could head home on time the rest of the week. Having that one evening each week was really important allowing me to catch up or get on top of things outside office hours.”

Liam Colville, Solicitor, Debenhams Ottaway @DebenhamsOtt 


“Flexible working has made me more efficient.”

“There are 3 options in my view: Option 1 is ‘the continue as before’ in the knowledge that others are looking after your child well. Option 2 is to say that being a father is considerably more important than a career so you shift towards the “work to live” view. Option 3 is a mid-point between the other 2. If you intend to take option 3 then my suggestions would be as follows. First try to build a platform of a work pattern that is agreeable to both work and home. Come to an agreement with your partner that you feel allows you to be the involved Dad that you want to be whilst still allowing you to maintain your career progression (albeit at a slightly diminished rate for a period). Be disciplined. Leave work when you have agreed. This may mean having to say no to certain meetings etc. Equally, agree regular days when you will work late so you know that you can focus on work on those days. I have also found that my focus on making the flexible working pattern work (and be seen to work) has made me more efficient at work. My time management has improved due to my focus on, for example, getting everything done so I can leave to be home for bath time. Having both the set agreement and the discipline has, paradoxically, given me the flexibility to adapt such as to busy times at work where some flex in the agreement is needed or to take calls at home etc.”

Chris Purcell, Solicitor, in-house third sector.



The following prompts are designed to help you consider how you can make a positive start to combining fatherhood and career.

  1. 1) How much leave will you take and when?
  2. 2) How much time will you strive to give to work and family each week?
  3. 3) What are your top professional priorities and how will you fit them into the time you have allocated to work?
  4. 4) What points do you need to discuss with your line manager?
  5. 5) What one thing can you start to do differently for the good of family life?


The Talent Keeper Specialists help men adjust to fatherhood through in-house seminars and one to one executive coaching. If you got something from this post you might also like:

Client case study – CIPR

The Challenge

case studyThe Challenge

The 2014 State of the Profession findings were a breaking point in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in taking action on equal pay and gender balance.

Amongst other defining statistics, the survey identified a mean average pay gap of over £12,000 in favour of men, as well as a lack of women operating at a senior level. These statistics are in context of an overall industry that is just under two-thirds female. As a policy commitment the CIPR aimed to tackle this issue across five broad areas:

  • Deliver a support network for women in public relations to successfully navigate the challenges of maternity leave and then return to work confidently
  • Encourage greater acceptance of flexible working practices
  • Increase the number of female role models
  • Provide better mentoring opportunities
  • Reflect on transparent pay structures as a solution to equal pay

London, United Kingdom - Tuesday 23 September 2014, CIPR - Training Workshops.










To specifically tackle the issue of maternity leave and return to work, in September 2014 the CIPR reformed our membership offering. Made available from Monday 1 September 2014, the ‘Managing Your Maternity Leave’ package included:

  • Up to 12 months payment holiday from CIPR membership – to ease the financial burden of Statutory Maternity Pay
  • Up to 12 months discretionary CPD credits – to maintain levels of accreditation
  • Quarterly KIT (Keeping in touch) emails – providing bite-size access to the latest on-demand learning and development opportunities
  • Access to a private online community – to promote knowledge sharing, advice and support

The package was announced in context of research published in August 2014 from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) which suggested that “women begin to fall behind at the age when they are most likely to be starting a family”, and from research published on 12 August 2014 by Slater & Gordon which found that “a third of managers would rather employ a man in his 20s or 30s than a woman of the same age for fear of maternity leave and that six in ten mothers felt side-lined from the moment they revealed they were pregnant”.

This was supported by Ruby McGregor-Smith, CBE, Chair of the Women’s Business Council and Chief Executive of Mitie Group plc, the FTSE 250 strategic outsourcing company.

In publishing this package the CIPR felt they needed to offer more substance and guidance to inform and educate maternity-leavers. The CIPR’s aim was to deliver greater confidence and self-belief, and ultimately deliver a greater number of women effectively returning to work in PR.


The Solution

London, United Kingdom - Tuesday 23 September 2014, CIPR - Training Workshops.The CIPR approached the Talent Keeper Specialists to create a bespoke suite of materials for their members and non-members to specifically address an education and knowledge gap on maternity leave and returning to work.

The guides were to be produced for the benefit of maternity-leavers in CIPR membership.


The Outcome

The Talent Keeper Specialists produced a series of ten guides containing a series of hints and tips on managing maternity leave, and featuring practitioner case studies and points of view. These were published in October 2014.

Guide 10, Best practices for managing maternity leave for line managers, was made publicly available and covers issues facing ‘maternity leavers’ and their managers before, during and after maternity leave. It also features a 12-point plan and reflective exercises, including information on planning and maintaining a structure for Keep in Touch (KIT) days and how to manage broader career progression conversations.

The other nine guides, made exclusively available to CIPR members, covered:


The CIPR’s Feedback

comment“Working with The Talent Keepers was an easy process from day one. After providing a comprehensive selection of prospective solutions to tackle the challenge, a clear structure in planning out the process of creating the guides was delivered, with the team always supplying their work before the deadline.

Jessica’s understanding of the issue led to the additional production of the publicly available guide for line managers, doing this was important in addressing a knowledge gap and has proven to be popular (the third most downloaded PDF in the last quarter of 2014).

Since the production of the guides, we have seen regular stream of downloads and positive feedback on social media. Regular comments from members focus on “the essential nature” and “informative but not restrictive language” of each piece of guidance, always crediting the confidence that they inspire. This is testament to the quality of the final product.

Finally, Jessica’s infectious enthusiasm for the issue, alongside her energy and genuine drive to positively effect change make her stand out one of the most inspirational people I have worked with.

Having established an incredibly useful working relationship with Jessica, I look forward to working closely with the Talent Keeper Specialists over the coming years as we continue our work on equal pay and gender balance.”

Thanks to Andy Ross, Public Relations & Policy Manager for this case study.

Talent Fueller – Nikki Gatenby, MD of Propellernet

Nikki ‘Director of the Symphony’ Gatenby is the Managing Director of Propellernet in Brighton, one of the most progressive Search Marketing agencies in the UK. She fuels talent by asking her people to be ‘stunning colleagues’ and they’ve been hailed one of the top 25 places to work in Europe.

In an instant we know Propellernet is a special place to work when Nikki tells us her job title is not so much MD as ‘Conductor of Our Symphony’ – a job she says is about creating unity and harmony from diversity. Propellernet was the Best Place to Work in the UK 2013 and the Top 25 of the Best Places to Work in Europe in 2014 by the Great Places to Work Institute & The Guardian.

Nikki was MD of the Year at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards, partly for Propellernet being recognised as one of the most democratic businesses in the world by Worldblu 2012, 2013 & 2014 and achieved the Investors in People Health and Wellbeing award (one of the smallest companies in the UK to win an Investors in People). Their clients include Marks & Spencer, Sportsshoes, L K Bennett and The Telegraph.

Incredibly high colleague retention



“Attracting and retaining talented people (55/45% male/female split) is my top priority – we put on a high impact experience for our clients, buy pulling together multiple different disciplines and personalities.

Both women and men are equally important here and each person is treated as an individual, based on their own personal circumstance.   One of the outcomes of the way we support and develop our team is really low staff turnover, at less than 10%, with our nearest competitor being c30% – and our clients love it.  Our Net Promoter Scores this year across our client stands at an industry leading 94% and we regularly get new business through client referrals.

It commands leadership that is intuitive and emotionally intelligent, wrapped up and an obsessive interest in others (rather than self). You have to be completely aware of everyone’s personal circumstance and the environment in which they operate best – it’s the same for men and women. Everyone is an individual and we all have needs beyond the company.

You also need to recognise when it is time for someone to take on a new challenge or experience and that may not be with Propellernet. I actively encourage the team to take up a travelling adventure or go for a role with a client if I truly believe it will benefit them.

Personalising flexibility


45% of us are parents, again, pretty evenly split between men and women. The responsibility to care for the children and get back to work can fall on either party and we make great efforts to support the mums and dads. We have enhanced maternity and paternity to offer paid leave and flexibility on hours on return to get into the swing of things, but there’s so much more;

One of our dads became a father to twins who were 3 months premature. We thought about what would support him the most at this worrying time – a mixture of dog walkers, cleaners and ready prepared luxury food parcels were on the menu, along with extended flexible working to allow him to visit the hospital during the day for the 3 month period before his full paternity leave kicked in. It was an agreement we came to together and totally based on personal circumstance.

A lot of our working parents want to have the flexibility to work different hours than the standard working week. 25% of the company work a mixture of part time on 3 or 4 days a week, shorter working days over the full week, 4 longer days over the 5 day week or variable mornings or afternoons at home or a mixture of all of the above! Whatever is needed.

Saying that, it’s not just parents. Recently one of our team was really passionate about writing a book, as we encourage diversity of learning and experience, we changed her working hours to enable her to take a day a week to concentrate on writing her book – which is going great guns.

Each of us taking personal responsibility, makes flexibility work. We have a set of values, but also a set of behaviours that work well for us. We’re focusing on this quite a lot right now and one of the key things in terms of behaviours is ‘to be a stunning colleague.’

This is not about employer – employee relations. This is human to human care and attention.

Education, Education, Education


I’ve been experimenting with better ways of working in competitive digital agencies in London, Paris and now Brighton over the last 15 years.  Having graduated from Kingston University and alumni of London Business School and Cranfield University, I have a keen focus on personal development and continuous learning for everyone in the company.  I don’t believe there is a week that I come away from work without having learnt something and I expect others to be able to feel the same.

We have developed our own internal Propellernet Academy, where everyone in the company, male, female, oldest, youngest , technical, creative, PR etc has a role to play in sharing and learning. We are in a fast moving environment and need the collective energy and intellect of the full team to keep us all up to date is imperative.

As such, we don’t bill out all of our time to clients. We aim to limit it to 80% (in previous agencies, this often goes over 100%). The rest of the time is to learn, share, read books, go to events, take part in the Academy.

Our Academy ‘lunchtime learnings’, ‘bitesize briefings’ and ‘shareback Thursdays’ all take place during the working day, to enable those with time bound responsibilities, such as picking up children, to still be able to take part.

Our weekly ‘New News’ company meeting on a Friday is hosted by me and another of our Directors, but owned by everyone – the agenda self forms each week based on what individuals feel they would like to share to inspire or simply keep each other up to date. It’s like a family breaking bread together around the dining table, sharing stories and experiences.

Opportunity cost of the Academy in terms of billed out hours last year was over £1m. But the actual strategic return across the business is invaluable.

The Academy, headed up by one of our part time working mums, has been recognised by our industry as leading the way in talent development, winning awards most recently of

  • Brand Republic Award 2014 – Talent Management Expertise
  • Guardian Best Awards 2014 – Best Development of Agency Talent

Values. And putting your money where your mouth is.


Our agency values are Creativity, Innovation, Adventure, Fun and Wellbeing.  They are woven into the very fabric of the operation. For example, good health and wellbeing puts us in pole position to develop and grow – so everyone qualifies for Propellernet funded healthcare (extended to their families)and we allocate 5% of our profits every month to specific wellbeing activities. Thus ensuring our individual and collective creativity rises and that we remain energetic about our business.

Wellbeing activities can be anything that the team deem valuable to do; such as subsidised Pilates, attending Improv classes, Community work (such as supporting the Brighton Fringe or Brighton University)and  pre-payday lunch to gather everyone together on a regular basis, just before the payday pinch happens.  There raft of options grows each year.

A spirit of adventure and expand our experiences puts us in pole position to develop and grow – so everyone is given a day a month, a Propel Day, to get out of the office and ‘Propel yourself forward’ – in whichever way you see fit. And after 5 years service, we offer the opportunity of a sabbatical, to take a month off, paid, to go and experience something wonderful.  There is no difference between those who are full time, part time or working flexibly. The opportunity is there for all. The one thing we expect back is for everyone to take on the personal responsibility of delivering great work and being a stunning colleague.  And it works.

Rewarding colleagues – the dream machine.


By focussing on the right things, people development being one of them, we have experienced triple digit revenue growth. But there’s always room to take it up a level. Imagine if your employer could help make your dreams come true? Or you could help your employees dreams come true…

We have a Dream Ball Machine at Propellernet – an old fashioned sweet dispenser filled with individual dream ball capsules.  Each capsule has a person’s name in it who works at Propellerne and when we hit a major milestone or target, we aim to release a dream ball and make someone’s dream come true. I have Dream Consultations with each person at the agency and ask them how they are going to make us more successful and if we succeed, what we can do to help make one of their dreams come true.

When we won the Great Places to Work award, we pulled two dream balls – last year Steve and Jim took the trip of a lifetime to the World Cup in Brazil, something they’ve both wanted to do since they were small.  With a mix of time, connections and a bit of budget, we got them there.

Carla’s dream ball dropped last Christmas and she took a dream family holiday in the Alps for her father’s 60th birthday – all put together based on our connections in travel and people in the Alps

It’s not all about waiting for a dreamball to drop though; Sophie wants to go on Safari so we’ve started working with a company in Namibia to promote their Safari’s and part of this is Sophie living her dream by spending time out on safari whilst supporting the company in their marketing activities. Mark wants to create a sci-fi-rock-opera – we’re in the process of giving him the time and space to do it, with our collective connections with writers, journalists, those in the music and video industry…watch this space

And there’s many more.

The point being, if you create a company that encourages people to lead full lives and follow their dreams, you can land a full roster of creative, innovative, award winning talent – that makes everyone’s lives better.

The motivation to be different – make life better.


We have a real sense of purpose behind our business.  It comes from a vision to ‘Make Life Better.’ If we can make life better for our clients customers online; help them find what they need – great content, great answers to their search queries online, in our connected world, they are likely to talk to their friends about it, to share it and promote our clients

If we can make our clients lives better by having consistent teams, doing great work, getting them results, making them famous, whatever it is they need, they will value our relationship all the more and make our lives better

If we can collectively make life better for each other within our agency team, we are all going to be happier, more creative and productive and enjoy our time at work.

It’s really that simple.

Without this culture….


  • We wouldn’t have such good growth figure or great client feedback.
  • Our turnover would inevitably be higher as would our recruitment costs.
  • Less parents would come back to work.
  • All our key metrics would take a hit.
  • The journey wouldn’t be half as much fun.
  • There would be no point, no purpose.

As our CEO once said, after being blown away by meeting the genius of Nile Rogers and listening to him talk about creating great music with soul last year: “Music without soul is just noise, business without purpose is just admin.”

PR daddy challenges culture and works flexibly


Chris Reed is the Founder of Restless Communications, an agency that helps organisations communicate at the speed, frequency and with the tone required for a social media age. He is @chris_reed on Twitter. Many moons ago he asked to work part-time and started to shift a culture.


Asking to work part-time at one of London’s top ten PR agencies

I was an Account Director in one of London’s top 10 PR agencies when my first son was born – back in 2003. I knew I wanted to buck the trend a bit and spend as much time with him as I could. But at the same time I also wanted to progress my career, so I knew I had to demonstrate to my colleagues and clients that it was possible to juggle work and home life.

And at the time, I did feel a bit of a social stigma. I was a bloke, rushing out the door several times a week just after 5pm knowing that many of my colleagues had another couple of hours left at their desks.

It helped that, at the time I was (and still am) pretty geeky and actually quite enjoyed tinkering with the various email and telephone systems to establish seamless call-forwarding and email/remote server access so that I remained in constant contact with the office. If people needed to call they could, and they also knew that I would always log on after bath time to clear any outstanding work.

Going against cultural norms

Later on, when both of my kids were a bit older I asked for, and was allowed to go down to working 3 days a week, so that I could spend more time with the kids, doing more drop-offs, collection and kids’ teas, and also so I could test whether I could juggle that with working for myself. I haven’t looked back since. It turns out I really am a ‘self-starter’ after all. Female colleagues had certainly negotiated four days and one or two did three days a week, but I was certainly the first bloke to do it. It was a few years ago now, but something I was very proud of. And it suited me perfectly.

Colleague reactions – being grown-up and forward-thinking

I have to say, that at the time my bosses were brilliant. The agency had always had a forward-thinking and grown-up approach to career development and I think they realised that they’d get the best out of me if we were both transparent and accommodating about what we both wanted. If/when they needed more of my time (working from home or in the office), I always found it. But at the same time, I was now much more in control of my diary. If I wanted to take two hours off in the middle of the afternoon to collect one of my kids and run a few errands with them I could. I simply made up the time elsewhere.

I can’t say for sure whether it really changed attitudes within the agency, but at the very least I think it showed other new parents that there were all sorts of ways to achieve a good work/life balance. I like to think it set the scene for more people having that proper grown-up chat about what they want, how they can still deliver excellent client service, and how they can push their career forward, even when working fewer hours or having less visibility in the office.

Once you ask and it gets a yes, then….ask for a little more

Once I’d broached the subject about what I actually wanted from work, and from my employer – and got a positive response, I actually felt much more empowered. I felt better about what I actually did, and much more valued as a result.  (Hey, if they’re happy for me to do this, then they obviously think I’m doing a pretty good job), which in turn gave me more confidence when it came to financial discussions than before.

Having those discussions about achieving the work/life balance I wanted definitely made it easier to broach other sensitive conversations at work over money. It was actually quite liberating.

I’ve heard some people say the complete opposite – things like, ‘well work have let me go down to three or four days, so I shouldn’t push my luck and ask for a pay rise or bonus alongside everyone else.’ But I’d take the opposite view. Everyone knows that part-timers routinely work more than their contractual hours and you’re probably more productive when you are working, but also, if your employers are happy for you to reduce your hours then they clearly value what you do – probably more than you realised.

Any tops tips/encouraging thoughts you can share about how to affect culture change, even in just the smallest of ways…?

I was very lucky to work somewhere with a strong culture of personal development, and with hindsight, I think that’s one of the fundamental building blocks of any successful employment, and certainly any successful agency.

From an employer’s perspective the more you understand what your employee really wants, rather than just a pay cheque at the end of the month, and the more you can accommodate this, the happier your employees will be. It’s one of the sure fire ways of keeping people motivated and delivering great work.

And from an employee’s perspective, I can’t stress enough that even though the first conversation might be hard when you want to discuss changing the way you work, or telling your boss what really makes you tick (e.g. I’m in a band which practices every Thursday at 6.30 so I need to leave on time), most bosses aren’t ogres.

As long as you can see things from their perspective as and when you ask, and demonstrate how you can help them avoid problems at the same time as them letting you do what you want, then you’ll generally have a fair hearing.

I’ve also learned, since setting up Restless Communications, my own agency, that most clients are also remarkably relaxed about the culture you want to engender within your agency. 90% of the time if a client asks me for a meeting or call and I reply, actually, could we shift it because that’s when I’m on the school run – how about this other time, they’re very happy to do so. And if they can’t they can’t, I’ll obviously sort something else out.

The main thing I learned all those years ago, which I now put into practice and would encourage others to always do so is simple: Don’t be afraid to ask. Always see things from your employer’s perspective as you do so, but don’t be afraid to ask.


Talent Fueller – Sue McLean, Morrison & Foerster LLP.

McLean_Sue High ResTalent Fueller Interview with Sue McLean, Morrison & Foerster LLP.

“Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’

Sue is a senior lawyer in MoFo’s European technology practice and the founder and chair of the MoFo Women London Affinity Group(i) – a group that is associated with MoFo’s firm-wide Women’s Strategy Committee. She was the recent guinea-pig for a new firm ‘Transition Time’ initiative, which supports the return of women post maternity (which she’s now done three times).

‘Transition time’ at Morrison & Foerster

Unusually for an American firm, Morrison & Foerster has several policies that support the return of women and men who’ve taken time out. One of these is ‘transition time’  and another is the automatic right to work reduced hours for one year following a return from maternity, paternity or adoption leave.  They’ve recently been named best firm for work-life balance at the third annual Americas Women in Business in Law Awards(ii) and were shortlisted in the same category at this year’s Euromoney Europe Women in Business Law Awards.

“There was an acknowledgement that prior to, and after, taking maternity leave or parental leave, you need some transition time to allow you to ramp down and ramp up to get back to where you were before. Lawyers all have billing targets and now for the month before you leave and the month following your return, these are cut by 50%.”

Flexible working in a law firm. Really?

“I think in all companies, people are slightly nervous of the concept of reduced hours/flexible working, particularly if they have never had anyone in their team working reduced hours before.  So you have a pilot and then everyone goes ‘oh yes, its fine.’

Certainly, in my experience, what tends to happen here is that when that [automatic] year ends, the arrangement just continues, if you want it to. I don’t know anybody, who, once they have had a flexible working arrangement in place, has had it taken away from them.

We have had many reduced hours returnees within the firm and it is certainly not a barrier to partnership. Indeed, we have had a number of reduced hours returnees make partner whilst on reduced hours. A couple of years ago, for example, four of the fifteen lawyers promoted to partner were currently on, or had been on, a reduced hours schedule.

Tell us some tales of colleagues working flexibly….

“I currently work four days a week and one of those days I work from home. A former colleague in my department worked flexibly for a decade. He wanted to live between London and Ireland so he worked from home on a Monday and a Friday, and he came to London on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless he had meetings, in which case, he swapped his days around. So, we have always been open to flexible working in my team.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ here. People can agree arrangements that suit them. For example, one of my colleagues in Berlin does some short days and some long days because she wants to be able to pick her daughter up from school. So a couple of days she leaves at 3pm and so as she works full time, she works late on the other days.

It’s certainly not just a UK or European practice though.  We have a male partner in the U.S. who was made a partner when he worked four days a week, which remains pretty unusual for a law firm. He wanted to spend more time with his young family. We also have lawyers who work reduced hours for other reasons. For example, we had a lawyer in the U.S. who worked even fewer days – he was an artist in his spare time and worked reduced hours to create more time for his art. I thought that the fact we enabled that was brilliant and shows that we’re pretty enlightened.

50:50 women and men new partners at Morrison & Foerster

We have a global Women’s Strategy Committee (co-chaired by a senior male partner and senior female partner) which was formed several years ago – partly in recognition that we wanted to increase the number of senior level women lawyers. As with many businesses, having more women in leadership positions remains a key challenge for most law firms.

We carried out a study and found that we’re generally good at internal promotions (our latest new partner list was 50/50 women/men), our biggest issue is in lateral hiring.

The majority of lateral hires are men and we asked ‘why is that?’ Evidence suggests that one of the reasons may be that women who make partner at one firm and have a working arrangement that works for them and their family may be reluctant to leave. A number of observers think it is because women are more likely to view their practices as being integrated with their in-firm networks. Another reason we suspect may contribute to the issue – and this has been discussed a lot in the context of the UK woman on boards debate – is that historically, headhunters and specifications for lateral hires may have been slanted unconsciously in favour of men. We now consider this issue carefully and try to scrutinise our job specs thoroughly to help rule out criteria that may put women off from applying.

Final thoughts?

The more we have men working flexibly, as well as the women, the more it becomes the norm.

I’ve not had a bad reaction from my team in terms of me working flexibly, because there isn’t a culture of presenteeism here. People know that if I leave early, then I will be logging on later if I need to.  Flexibility has to be two-way; if I was the kind of person who said ‘I am working these days and you must never contact me on a Friday and I am leaving the office at this time and that’s it,’ then that’s not going to work as we are in a client-driven business. As long as the clients are happy, it shouldn’t matter. I know the people I work with directly, don’t care if I leave the office at 5pm and then log on at 8pm, as long as my work gets done and the clients are happy. When I compare my experience as a working mum compared to friends at other firms, I must say I feel incredibly fortunate.

(i) Affinity Groups. Of the firm’s 20 affinity groups, 11 are expressly committed to providing women lawyers with an internal support network to help them advance within the firm and the profession, including D.C./NoVa Women, Los Angeles Women, MoFo Women London, New York Asian Women Associates, New York Women, New York Women of Color, Palo Alto Women, San Diego Women, San Francisco Women, San Francisco Working Moms, and San Francisco Women of Color. Each of these groups regularly sponsors programmes that address work-life balance, parenting, and reduced-hours arrangements.

Here are the groups: New York Women, New York Black Women’s Group, Nippon Women, Palo Alto Women, San Diego Women, San Francisco Women, San Francisco Working Moms, Berlin Women, DC/NoVa Women, Los Angeles Women, Los Angeles Working Parents, MoFoWomen London, New York Asian Women Associates

(ii) Awards. MoFo has also recently been recognized as one of the best U.S. law firms for women by Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC, a U.S. consulting firm. The annual survey identifies the top 50 U.S. law firms that have created and use best practices in promoting and retaining women lawyers. According to the survey, the law firms included on this year’s list lead the industry in supporting flexible work arrangements, offering generous paid parental leave, and ensuring that lawyers who take advantage of family-friendly programs are not excluded from partnership or leadership tracks. MoFo is among a select group of firms where the most recent partnership classes have included lawyers who have worked part-time schedules at the time of their promotions.



Talent Fueller – Katarina Fidler, Carillion

Kat FidlerTalent Fueller Interview with Katarina Fidler, Carillion.

“Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’

Kat Fidler is the general manager of Sky Blue Solutions, part of leading integrated support services group Carillion, which provides recruitment and resource solutions to the UK construction and services sectors. She initiated and led the creation of the Carillion working mums network which quickly grew from being a small self-help group to a network with 200 plus members, senior sponsorship and influence on policy.

Why a ‘working mums network’ at Carillion?

The working mums network was triggered in part by my own experiences. I wanted to create a support network for others through shared experiences. This rapidly evolved into an opportunity to shine a light on some of the issues that female colleagues face, including career progression, at the point they become parents.

Having evolved from a traditionally male-dominated construction environment, Carillion’s policies at that time focused mainly on managing individual areas such as pregnancy and maternity leave rather than the broader gender agenda. When I was pregnant, I was overwhelmed with a well-intentioned attitude, mainly from male colleagues, which said ‘when you have a baby you won’t be interested in coming back’ or ‘you might come back on a part-time basis but your priorities will be elsewhere’. It painted the picture to me and others that if you are having a baby, you won’t be here, and if you are you won’t be in the running for anything else.

I took one year off on maternity leave and returned to a very supportive environment, driven by my line manager at the time. However I still found the process of becoming a working mum difficult. Putting aside the logistical and planning challenges of a family with two full-time working parents, after a year out I felt my concentration span was much shorter and my ability to get my point across was a little rusty. I realised how valuable it was to have a group that working mums can turn to when they go through pregnancy and return to work simply to talk about some of these quite personal insights and worries.  If someone had told me at the time that you have this period of transitioning and adjustment, I’d have stopped worrying about it quite as much.

Creating this peer support for other women in Carillion was the primary reason for the working mums network.

Leadership sits up and takes notice

These difficulties associated with maternity transitions had not previously been highlighted but now diversity and inclusion is firmly on senior leadership’s agenda. Importantly, it is embedded in sustainability targets in the business strategy.  Managing motherhood has been recognised as an important sub-element of our gender agenda. The working mums network was soon seen as an opportunity to get grass-root level insights into the issues faced by working mums which can inform senior-level decision making.

Therefore, there has been strong senior sponsorship for the network from the start. This was really important because sometimes there is a risk that these types of groups can be mis-understood and seen as ‘whinging forums’, if taken out of context. The activity of the network started with a comprehensive piece of research to understand the landscape of working mums in Carillion: what Carillion has to deal with; what Carillion working mums have to deal with; national statistics; and best practice from other companies.

The research evolved into a set of recommendations, broadly around flexibility, maternity pay, line management support and processes.

Working mums network influencing maternity policy

Carillion’s senior leadership team considered the recommendations and asked the network to work up proposals for revised maternity pay. As well as considering responses from our research, we benchmarked Carillion against other companies in the UK – across all industries. We considered the financial implications to the business and proposed a balanced range of options. Our senior leadership team acted swiftly to approve a positive change and Carillion now offers 12 weeks full pay and then an additional six weeks at half pay. This is miles ahead of our competitors in both construction and services sectors, many of which offer the legal minimum.

Personalising maternity time

Our research also highlighted that there was an opportunity to recognise the emotional richness of what  employees experience at maternity time. We felt that connecting with employees in a positive way would help to drive further loyalty to Carillion. The maternity process is under a full review in order to personalise some of the key touch points.

For example, the network has recently trialled sending a copy of a book, Mothers Work! to women who are due to return from maternity leave with a personal note to let them know that Carillion is keen for them to return and will support their transition back to work. The feedback has been really positive. We’ve had people posting messages on our internal social network saying how valued it made them feel. Taking the time to write the card and send the book is an inexpensive thing to do for an awful lot of value; it alleviates the worry about returning back to work as a mum and increases motivation to come back and put value into the business.

Star awards for line managers

Carillion has recognised the need for flexible and agile workforce even before the working mums research highlighted flexibility as one of the key enablers for working mums careers. As a result our flexible working policy was revamped to offer a lot of scope to recognise and make the most of our people’s talents. In the survey we did across the working mum population at Carillion we found we had pockets of excellence where line managers were being really quite creative with how they manage their teams and how much difference it made to the morale, loyalty and discretionary effort of their staff.

We wanted to shape line manager behaviour by highlighting good practice which is making a positive difference. We asked our members to nominate their managers for a Star Award. There have been some really touching stories where line managers had gone beyond the call of duty, not only to show support to their female employees but also to demonstrate openness and creativity in the application of the policy.  These managers fly the flag not just for working mums but also for a balanced approach to work  by sending a message that it’s ok to be supportive and it’s ok not to be driven by ‘bums on seats’ but by output instead.

What’s next?

The working mums network activity has only just began. The next steps are to increase the depth and breadth of what we do with our members and their line managers. Our evolution has to incorporate support for working dads and carers. The network is also represented in a Carillion-wide Diversity Group which gives working mums the opportunity to influence strategic action behind Carillion’s diversity and inclusion strategy.