Community Learning Series | #InclusionForParents

Written by: Rhiannon on March 11, 2022

Please note that some of the content and topics discussed in this blog could be triggering. We’ve included a list of resources at the end of the piece including support services. 

The theme for this month’s community learning series event was ‘Inclusion for parents’, during which we discussed how we can make workplaces more inclusive for all, covering a range of scenarios: from shared parental leave, enhanced maternity and paternity leave packages, miscarriage and menopause provision, and more.

As some of the content may be triggering we chose to follow Chatham house rules – which meant we didn’t record the event but instead agreed to create a blog that will cover all the talking points and the key takeaways, without revealing any contributors identities. Our invited speakers were Kerry Allison, the People Policy Manager at Co-op and Gemma McCall, Co-Founder and CEO of Culture Shift.  Our host and event mediator was our own Co-Founder Jo Morfee.

Pandemic Parenthood – The hard facts

The pandemic has been an eye-opener when it comes to working parents, especially mums. Balancing childcare and a career mixed with working from home has created a real challenge for parents. A report by British think tank, Autonomy, stated that of the 3 million people in ‘high risk’ jobs, 77% of them are women and women do, on average, 60% more unpaid care work than men, leaving them with less time for paid work.

Pregnant women were all but forgotten by the government’s initial response, with organisations such as Pregnant then Screwed campaigning hard for a change to the rules surrounding self-employment income support; which they estimate left 69,000+ women in poverty. They were also campaigning to allow birth partners back into hospitals during childbirth, which astonishingly took nearly all of 2020 to get amended. 

The pandemic highlighted an alarming disregard for women, both pregnant or otherwise, and exacerbated the inequalities which already existed. Current legislation does not effectively protect working mothers. This results in an estimated 54,000 women losing their jobs every year simply for getting pregnant. In addition, 390,000 working mums experience negative and potentially discriminatory treatment at work each year. Credit source: Pregnantthenscrewed

These numbers have doubled in a decade. Far from improving, the situation for working mums is rapidly deteriorating. Dads also only currently get 2 weeks statutory paid paternity leave which is not long enough, in our view.

Insights from our expert panel:

Gemma, can you introduce yourself and tell us more about the work that Culture Shift is doing, and why it’s important?

Culture Shift exists to remove the barriers which prevent people from reporting when it comes to bullying and sexual harassment. People currently fear the repercussions of what may happen if they speak up, the fear of what might happen to their career. Culture Shift provides easier reporting and looks to better understand the data and trends, to change the organisational culture. 

I faced maternity discrimination, not once but twice, and it really lit a fire. There really is no gauge on discrimination and organisations are losing people who are no longer willing to put up with it. When you look at trending topics such as “the great resignation” we can see how, post-pandemic, people are more than happy to leave and pursue alternate employment, contrary to what may have been predicted.

We need to promote belonging and inclusivity.

Above all else, it makes financial sense. A high employee turnover costs businesses money, resources and can negatively impact reputation. 

Kerry, can you introduce yourself and tell us why the Co-op decided to create progressive policies covering topics such as pregnancy loss and menopause? 

The Co-op has such a long history of trying to do the right thing and there is a massive opportunity right now due to the pandemic to help shape the world differently. 

When you look at all the data, women have suffered the most. So creating progressive policies isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s a necessity. It makes good business sense. It’s a real challenge attracting and engaging the right people. We want to make sure that people are able to fulfil their potential at work, many of those will be working parents, so it’s something that we absolutely have to look at. This helps with the retention of good people.

The Co-op aims to be an organisation that has an impact on the broader society. From our point of view if you’re wanting to have an impact, it goes further than legislative requirements, but encompasses considering how might we make room for more empathy within those policies.

How has remote working & the pandemic changed things for parents? Are there any positives as well as negatives? (e.g. dads can spend more time with newborn children when working from home.) Is there an opportunity to make the care more equal?

[KERRY] Absolutely, we have 3000+ people within our colleague community and the challenges have been quite different depending on the population that you’re looking at. I was on a call last week with our parents and carers network and Dads were speaking up about how it’s changed for them, being able to spend more time with their families, without the commuting and the extra hours gained.

When you look at positive benefits like working from home, we want to encourage flexibility for parents who are able to work from home, but I think the improvement piece is not complete yet.

[GEMMA] We had to react to make it work last year and we shouldn’t lose that kind of agile thinking and just have a policy in place. Sexual misconduct policies, for example, haven’t been reviewed since the Equality Act was updated in 2010, and we can’t keep having an attitude where we’re only making improvements when things go wrong or we’re forced to. It needs to be a proactive approach.

We are proud that we can be adaptable but I can also say it’s been quite a challenge, we secured investment just before the pandemic and then we went from 4 to 25 [employees] and we’re still growing, which we’re very proud and excited about. We’ve just invested in a office base and it puts us in a difficult position where I want to maintain a hybrid working environment but also I’m going to be paying a lot more rent. The financial pressures which we face as a small organisation are different to larger organisations who may be able to afford to offer both options more readily.

Gemma  – How hard was it to create an inclusive policy, and what were the key challenges you came up against?

We worked with CharlieHR who are progressive themselves, aligning to enhance parental leave and our maternity policy.

I recently experienced something which really brought awareness of the importance of having a gender-neutral approach into my consciousness. I think that reinforces the importance of having as diverse a workforce as possible, because if you don’t have those diverse perspectives then it’s not necessarily on your radar. We all have our blind spots.

The main thing is the costs to the business. Giving someone statutory maternity pay vs enhanced maternity pay usually comes down to costs for a small business, as the statutory offer is not great. The hardest part of the change is that for everyone to adopt it as widely as possible, we need to see it supported by the government financially. At the moment for SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), it is a burden on the organisation. At the moment, a person is entitled to 6 weeks at 90% pay and thereafter £151 a week for up to 36 weeks and it’s just not good enough in the UK. As a small enterprise or micro business it’s really difficult to enhance that, even when you really want to be as fair as you possibly can be.

Kerry – why is it important to consider different types of scenarios when you create policy frameworks, such as a woman who has had a miscarriage, or a loss of any kind? How did you find the process of creating such policies and was there any opposition or resistance to it? 

It’s part of the reason that we sought the advice of the Miscarriage Association when putting this piece together. Their insight is something that would acknowledge all the different scenarios and ensure that all the different forms of loss are covered.

We did have some debate around what to expect, but no opposition. We sought support internally and began to work out together whether an organisation is in a place to make a judgement on that experience – it’s difficult as there are so many different scenarios to consider. We wanted to make sure that the different scenarios were also informed by an earlier piece of insight around ‘general loss, bereavement and grief at work’ we did.

Loss under 24 weeks was not covered. The feedback from groups and colleagues was that they felt miscarriage should be acknowledged as a loss not as sick pay. I think it’s such a kind and considerate approach actually to take the position of non-judgement, to consider grief as well, because the recommended two weeks seems like quite a short time period, and everybody is different.

“It’s important to have flexibility in the policy to give you the ability to act and display empathy as a human being, on top of the framework.”

Q&A with the Audience:

The first question asked in our Q&A segment was surrounding menopause.

How we can provide a supportive environment that doesn’t discriminate against women who are experiencing menopausal changes physically as well as mentally?

The advice: That a policy is a starting point but definitely not the end. Menopause is a conversation that needs to be normalised. It needs to be a conversation in the boardroom, but also helping managers and colleagues understand it in the right way.  Coffee mornings talking about menopause and providing support have been hugely successful within the Coop (these are held weekly).

The topic of support groups sparked a good question asking, how best to form support groups within an organisation?

The advice: Break down the groups. It’s not useful to have a ‘parents’ group as there are so many challenges and differences between a newborn and a teen for example, but also amongst different types of parents and carers. Breaking it down will provide better and more niche support, especially in larger organisations. The second piece of advice is to create a ‘champion’ for each group. Nominating someone to represent and coordinate the group will give the group a unified voice and empower them.

The next question which arose looked at advice for policymaking and how best to make global policies.

The advice: First, you need to look at accessible language and make sure your policy can be easily understood by managers and policy creators alike. Second, start small. It’s difficult and timely to overhaul big policies, especially if you’re a global brand and are looking at multiple countries where there may be cultural differences and expectations surrounding policies such as parental leave. So, approach it as little pieces of the puzzle rather than the big picture, as it will come together eventually.

And that’s a wrap! We’d like to thank everyone involved in this partner session and to all attending partners for joining in the conversation alongside our brilliant speakers.

If you would like to join in our next conversation, keep up-to-date with upcoming events in our partner bulletin. We hope to see you there.

If you would like to access events and content like this, why not join our partner network? Our learning series events run bi-monthly.

Links for further reading:

Culture shift: 

Kellogg’s to give staff fertility, menopause and miscarriage leave

Free advice services for expectant mothers & resources:

Co-op pregnancy loss policy >

Monzo policies >

Channel 4 inclusion policies >

Support services (for anyone triggered or in need of support):

Hub of Hope:

National Childbirth Trust:

Tommy’s (Baby Loss Support):

Miscarriage Association:

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