How do you recruit and retain the best talent? It’s the Holy Grail for many employers. Near the top of the list of factors employees regularly list as vital to them is flexible and family friendly working which enables them to achieve their full potential at work.
It's an issue that is closely connected with gender diversity policies, given that women still tend to take on the primary carer role and dads face problems accessing flexible working.
At a recent roundtable event of HR managers organised by Workingmums.co.uk there was a clear desire to share best practice on what works. One HR manager remarked that, unusually, this was one area where normally ultra competitive employers were keen to collaborate because they realised that it was such a hard nut to crack.
So what do the best employers do? According to Workingmums.co.uk's new Best Practice Report 2017, there are clear trends towards including men in the debate around gender equality and embedding flexible working from recruitment onwards.
The report, based on what the winners of Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Awards* are doing, highlights, for instance, initiatives that involve the development of flexible working tools for line managers and role modelling by senior managers.
Lloyds Banking Group, which won the Award for Best for Dads, describes its work on Shared Parental Leave and its elearning tools for new dads as well as its Family Matters network and events for parents, including specific ones for dads.
The report shows there has been a definite increase in work on flexible recruitment policies and a recognition that to normalise flexible working requires embedding a flexible culture from recruitment through to senior management and constantly pushing flexibility as the norm.
Law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, which won Top Employer Award for Talent Attraction, for instance, talks about its homeworking pilot for lawyers in Manchester which has shown the effectiveness of different ways of working.
Employers featured in the report are also setting up or embedding numerous initiatives to address the blockage in the female talent pipeline, recognising the links between leadership programmes, mentoring and sponsorship and family friendly, flexible cultures.
Sky, winner of the Overall Top Employer Award and the Award for Career Progression, talks about how it has increased the number of female senior managers in the company from 31% to 38% in less than two years and its ambition to get to a 50/50 ratio.
There is also a focus on understanding the areas of organisations where there may be particular issues around attracting and retaining women and targeting resources at them.
Employers are clear that flexible cultures stand or fall by the people who exist inside them and the training and support given to them, particularly line managers.
Carillion, a facilities management and construction services company which won the Top Employer Award for Family Support, speaks about its family support networks and its awards for supportive line managers which publicly recognise the crucial role line managers play in making the workplace more family friendly.
Another trend for corporates was an interest in global impact through promoting best practice globally.
Telecomms giant Vodafone, winner of the Top Employer Award for Innovation in Flexible Working, describes the motivation behind its global maternity policy, which is has recently followed up with a global returners initiative. The maternity policy guarantees four months on full pay across its global operation and women can return on four days a week on full pay for the first six months.
SMEs are also singled out for their flexible, supportive cultures. Healthcare communications agency Cuttsy and Cuttsy and technology company Madgex talk about their emphasis on an agile culture and career development for staff.
Working Mums Champion Award winner Jane Magill, from investment bank Macquarie, is chair of the Balance at Macquarie network. Previously the network had focused on events-based activity, but Jane was interested in taking a more strategic approach to change. So she set about running focus groups across the organisation to find out what people thought the network should do and how it could make a difference.
The result was a change of name, focus and a new logo - to reflect that greater gender equality is not just the domain of women. Since she took over as chair there has been a 350% increase in membership of the network - up to 500 members now with 30% of them being men. The network still runs events, but there is a big emphasis on gender balance, for instance, quiz night teams have to be gender balanced. “That makes it clear how difficult it can be in some departments,” says Jane. “We want to get men involved.”
*The Workingmums.co.uk's Top Employer Awards 2017 have just opened for entries.
Mandy Garner is editor of workingmums.co.uk, a jobs and news site on issues relating to gender equality and family friendly working.