With record numbers of women leaving or being driven out of the workforce, employers are turning to parent retention strategies.
Duolingo, the language learning app, has set a directional goal to ‘not lose any parents’ and is allowing parents to request reduced working hours with full pay and benefits. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google are both offering an extra 12 weeks of paid family leave for employees struggling with childcare issues.
The reason for this is that women are disappearing from the workforce at an alarming rate. In the US, women in their prime earning years – aged 25 to 54 – are exiting the workforce more than any other age group, with 1.3 million women leaving since February alone.
In the UK, women are 47% more likely than fathers to have quit or lost their job during the pandemic, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and significantly less likely to have been employed, according to the latest career confidence index from LinkedIn.
“Women are facing greater hurdles when it comes to employment opportunities and career progression due to the global pandemic,” observed LinkedIn director Janine Chamberlin. “The concern is that with greater demands on their time and higher levels of stress, working mothers may consider reducing their hours or leaving the workforce entirely.”
So, if you don’t have the option to give working parents paid leave, what else can you do to stem the loss of talent and ensure your diversity initiatives don’t fail?
Three ways to retain working parents
1. Continue to offer flexible working
Even though schools have reopened and the government is encouraging people to return to the office, the childcare crisis risks pushing women out of the workforce, with two in five working mothers with children under 10 saying they are struggling to find the childcare they need because after-school clubs remain shut and care from family and friends remains limited.
Working around a 9am to 3pm school day is considerably better than having to work with children underfoot while simultaneously having to teach them. But this is far from ideal when it comes to conforming to the ‘standard’ working day, especially if parents have to commute to and from work within this time.
So, if you only do one thing to retain working parents, it’s to remember that the vast majority of people proved that they can be just as productive working flexibly from home and allow them to continue to prioritise work or their children as needed.
Review your flexible working practices by assessing what has and hasn’t worked so far during the pandemic. Bring managers together (via virtual meetings if necessary) to share their successes, challenges, tips and ideas as a group. Consider formulating some best practice guidelines that can be used consistently across the organisation.
2. Encourage men to be more involved parents
During the pandemic, men have proved that they can also be just as productive working from home and that they don’t need to be in the office, having dinner with clients or travelling up and down the country, or halfway around the world, to be effective in their roles. They have discovered that they can be way more flexible than they thought they could and must now be given the opportunity to continue to play a more active role at home if they want to.
Not only will this alleviate the physical demands on women, to spread out the ongoing childcare challenges more equally, but it will also normalise and destigmatise flexible working. The benefits of which include accelerating career equality for women and reducing stress and anxiety levels for both men and women.
At the same time as encouraging men to be more involved parents, maternity coaching can also be used to help women to encourage their partner, if they have one, to be a more involved parent. This is important because societal expectations encourage women to continually compromise their ability to work to look after children, when their partner is often willing and able to play a more active role.
Coaching can help women think about what they want from their career and the life they want to create for their family. Coaching may enable them to consider what support they need from their partner, family or paid for childcare, to achieve this, to prevent them putting too much pressure on themselves by trying to constantly enact what society is telling them it means to be a good mother.
3. Think about the long term
Although it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to the impact the pandemic is having on women’s careers, especially during a year when gender pay gap reporting has been suspended and you might be making redundancies, it’s important to think longer-term.
People will remember what sort of employer you were and how you treated them, which will impact on your ability to attract and retain talented individuals in future.
Also, most employers have made so much progress when it comes to progressing career equality. We need to retain that experience and knowledge; otherwise, in two years we will be back to exclusionary workplaces, with a lack of cultural diversity representing a serious step backwards.
Finally, according to research by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Meaning employers that prioritise diversity and inclusion will continue to place themselves at an advantage when it comes to sustaining their access to talent, diverse skills, leadership and innovation.
Free online event: ‘Retain our working parents!’
Join our free online event for HR professionals: ‘Retain our working parents!’ at 10am on 18 November 2020. We will be talking to HR managers in financial services about the challenges and their approach to retaining working parents in a post-pandemic era. Please register here.
By Helen Letchfield, co-founder, Parent & Professional