Talent Fueller interview with Nicki Seignot, ASDA. “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.’
Nicki Seignot is part of Asda’s HR team at the home offices in Leeds. She’s also the bright mind behind their Mum2Mum mentoring scheme which helps maternity leavers bring their ‘whole selves’ back to work. After a spot of mutual admiration (we love that it came about through Nicki’s commitment to CPD and she says our founder’s book “Mothers Work!” is the book she wishes she wrote) we got into the nitty-gritty of Mum2Mum.
What is Mum2Mum?
Mum2Mum is a maternity mentoring programme, specifically designed to support women returning to work. It connects women coming back from maternity leave with a mentor who has recently made it back and supports them through their transition to becoming a working parent. We flex the approach depending on what stage of the journey she’s at and it’s a very inclusive scheme. We don’t discriminate by job grade, MumtoMum is a scheme open to all women taking maternity in the Asda Home Offices.
Please tell us about how Mum2Mum came about…
Two members of my close team were newly pregnant and I was mentoring them as a pair. In starting this as an early pilot, it became clear to me that as a business we needed to do more and there were lots of other returning mums who also could benefit from support.
At the same time I was talking to one of our executive coaches who had links to the Business School at Sheffield Hallam University. That was a bit of a tipping point, because her recommendation was to explore opportunities to take my practice to the next level and as a result, I started an MSc in Coaching and Mentoring in January 2011. I was busy working my way through Senior Executives and Directors and members of the People Team, saying ‘Look I’ve got this idea, what do you think?’ I was careful to select both men and women because I wanted to get a balance of challenge to my insights and proposals. Nobody said ‘I don’t think that’s going to work.’
So I started Mum2Mum with a pilot of 12 working mums and 12 mums to be. This was absolutely the part of the job that I loved. It unlocked a passion and enthusiasm in me. My experience with these colleagues showed the value in pregnant colleagues being able to talk to someone independently other than their line manager. Mum2Mum also became the focus of my Masters dissertation and I graduated November 2013 with a distinction!
You have a strong view about employees literally investing in themselves…
Nobody should underestimate the amount of time, effort and energy required to do a Masters level qualification – it’s phenomenal! I’ve worked flexibly since I had my children and I’ve been fortunate to have had time and head-space away from work to devote to other things. In the last few years, this other significant thing has been the Masters as well as the family!
Asda and I co-funded my studies, which I believe is an appropriate way forward because there is a shared commitment to your development. Probably for the first time, I was signing up for a significant investment in me, and that changed my relationship with it as a learning journey. I wonder that in some programmes where the company makes the investment, you go in preoccupied and with a busy head – but this was a joint thing and I was consciously more focused.
I made a very clear business case to say ‘I’m really passionate about doing this – here’s where the opportunities are, we’re busy building a coaching culture, yet, there’s a load more to do, it will offer new insights and external thinking, and it will improve my practice as a coach and mentor.’
Asda became the most amazing fertile ground to start something of immense value both at an individual level and business level, firm in the belief that what we were doing was the right thing.
What’s the business value in Mum2Mum?
I know I needed to make the case for Mum2Mum from a business perspective, so I ran an internal survey with the maternity returners for the whole of one year. What that gave me, was a rich picture across those colleagues, of their experiences, the length of time they took on mat leave, the specific benefits and difficulties associated with returning to work as working mums.
The survey indicated many women were working as close to their due date as possible to allow maximum time on maternity leave. This has implications for health and well-being and the role of line managers in being mindful of changing needs as leaving dates approach. Women were returning to work, across a range of working patterns, though it was clear that a majority of colleagues had returned on reduced hours. Furthermore, there was an over riding sense that pre-maternity optimism about ease of returning, was often at odds with their actual experiences of returning to work and combining this with parenting.
The survey provided the burning platform and we had some incredibly powerful quotes to put into the strategic Mum2Mum documents. The overall purpose of the programme is about using mentoring as strategic support to improve the experience of women returning to work. There are also clear links to the diversity agenda. It’s clear to me there is something about recognising the significance of this point of a woman’s career and for organisations to engage in planned support around maternity. It’s not enough to leave it to a briefing session. With appropriate preparation and support, there are real benefits in harnessing the experience and expertise of existing working parents.
There’s also a potential benefit of new connections being made across the business that probably wouldn’t exist ordinarily – that’s because we match people from different areas of the business. I’ve found that a number of the mentoring relationships have turned into mutual friendships and as one mentor said to me recently ‘it’s an intimate time, you grow together.’
It sounds very positive for all involved, so just who is it that accesses Mum2Mum?
Overall it’s becoming more widely known – people are talking about it and coming to talk to us which is great. We have a spectrum of women taking part across the Asda Home Offices. It isn’t something that only more junior or more senior colleagues do. We we match on the basis of peer-to-peer support, so both mentee and mentor are at the same level.
We publicise Mum2Mum through our intranet and word of mouth. We also run a monthly maternity briefing session called ‘Mums to be’ where we bring together pregnant colleagues for an afternoon’s workshop covering the essentials of going on maternity leave as well as opportunities for networking and sampling Asda’s fantastic ‘Little Angels’ products. As one mum put it ‘It’s nice to be in a room and just be pregnant!’
In these sessions we also invite mentees and mentors to share their experiences – the mentor’s perspective of why they want to be a mentor and the type of support they offer. For the mums to be, it’s really critical that they have somebody to talk to them, who has come back relatively recently. The reason I say that, is that for a lot of first time mums, when they think about mentoring, they don’t think they are going to need any help! There’s a requirement for us (as scheme owners) and our mentors, to be quite proactive in the early stages, to build relationships and prompt thinking before the colleague goes off on maternity leave.
All our mentors are enthusiastic volunteers who have come to me and said ‘I’ve come back to work and I’d really like to be a mentor and help someone.’ We also have a number of Mum2Mum mentees who have returned and now want to offer back the support they enjoyed through Mum2Mum.
On that note of ‘future possibilities’ and shared parental leave on the horizon, are their plans for a Dad2Dad scheme?
We’d love to have a Dad2Dad scheme and this has been on my mind! Becoming a parent is a significant time in people’s lives both men and women and there are lessons we can take from Mum2Mum which could be adapted.
Is there someone in your organisation who’s making efforts to keep, support and stretch female talent that we could shine a light on? Go on, make their day and put us in touch with him or her.