Women and parents in financial services: the challenges and how to overcome them

This week’s blog is written by co-founder of Parent & Professional, Helen Letchfield.

Our webinar for HR in financial services aimed to highlight some of the key challenges to working parents and to discuss some ways we have already started to help and things we can do more of going forward.  We covered all of this and a bit more too…..

Why now?

These are just some of the headlines and reports that instigated our panel discussion for HR this week; in a nutshell, we are worried about the long-term impact of these statistics:

More than a third (35%) of respondents consider their career prospects to be worse than before the pandemic, and 22% said career development discussions had stopped completely.
Cityparents Annual Survey

17% of mothers vs 9% of fathers have considered reducing work hours due to COVID; 16% mothers vs 11% fathers have considered switching to a less demanding job.
McKinsey Lean In

Mothers are now spending almost two extra hours (1.9) a day on childcare. Due to this, many working mothers have had to leave their jobs in order to meet the demands of looking after their children.
HR Review, Accenture study

The challenges

Job security
The panel members have seen how there is anxiety in particular around parents coming back from maternity leave – many want to come back sooner but in some cases they are being discouraged from doing so due to restructures, instability around business performance and potential furloughing/redundancies. This can lead to higher levels of anxiety and affect confidence levels in the short term and can stall career progression longer-term.

Emotional instability and exhaustion
Many feel a sense of grief and loss for the maternity leave they had envisioned but not managed to get.  They have felt isolated and mentally and physically exhausted – especially those with additional caring responsibilities.

Dads’ vs Mums’ reactions
It has still been hard for men to break through the cultural and societal barriers that prevent them from coming forward and asking for support.  However, we have all seen many examples of dads in financial services having enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime flexibility and quality time with their families.  This means they are now starting to come forward and have discussions about maintaining this new way of working for the longer term.  Are managers ready for these conversations?

Challenges for financial services

Although most financial service organisations have managed to so far maintain more stability than the retail, travel and entertainment sectors, the clients they serve are still in the sectors which have been impacted so there is a knock-on effect.

Financial services have struggled more culturally and technically…

Not used to remote working, often without the technical set-up and support, this was a huge challenge for financial services early on in the crisis.  Whilst many have been surprised just how possible working from home now is, it has taken a while to catch up.

Expressing a need and accepting that employees need to be ‘looked after’ is new language for many in financial services, and the lack of senior women in this industry has possibly made open conversations harder to filter down from the top.

There’s a feeling amongst employees that ‘we can’t complain as we still have jobs’, so there is an element of guilt and therefore a lack of willing to be seen to be ‘complaining’ or ‘not coping’.  In HR, we need to work with employees and leadership teams to create a psychologically safe culture; to overcome the challenge of feeling able to raise concerns at a time when jobs feel insecure.

What can we do to help?

Some suggestions from our panel:

  • Ask senior leaders to role-model the behaviours we want to see; getting used to stating needs
  • Coaching managers to have conversations with parents, especially around flexibility
  • Review process – adding questions around the challenges each individual is facing and what support they need emotionally
  • Roundtables on different topics – eg how is the pandemic affecting women differently to encourage people to open up
  • Paid parental leave days to take the pressure off
  • Wellbeing and resilience development.  Some have noticed that buy-in for ‘softer skills’ has changed this year – much bigger demand from employees; this has given employees space to reflect and assess where they are on their individual journey and it’s a great organisational opportunity to harness this willingness to learn!

Is HR being supported?

We launched a poll at the beginning of the webinar which asked attendees in HR to share where their companies are in their own journeys of supporting working parents.  Whilst it is encouraging that 37% attendees say this support is on their agenda and even better that 67% are actively helping this group of employees, it is also shocking that 0% of the HR community online didn’t think their leadership teams were fully backing them by committing budget and time to this. 

This is therefore a great time to share some of the statistics coming up about the longer-term impact of the crisis on talent, leadership pipeline and equality with the senior teams.  Some may think that parents make up a minority group with the organisation, but we need to think much bigger than this when we consider those who are also carers.

Use the platform to build on opportunities that the current crisis has thrown up for parents

We are all working through the challenges of 2020 – as we approach the end of the year, it is the time to take stock and plan for 2021 – it is critical we don’t lose this platform to continue the dialogue to change the culture for the better. 

Look at the skills we’ve developed – self and time management; self-motivation; parenting skills through a crisis – all these skills are transferable from parent to professional to leader.

Further reading

Our article on around parent retention strategies was published in People Management this week.