How to get greater diversity at all levels of an organisation is one of the big issues facing HR directors today and there is no shortage of research into the drivers of this and studies that show the organisational benefits, but for those on the ground it is important to hear what might work to achieve it.
Some of the key current issues revolve around how to access the pool of talent lost due to career breaks and how to level the playfield between men and women, particularly at more senior levels. At a roundtable in June HR directors from a range of leading organisations came together to share their experiences openly, including the continuing challenges they face.
The session kicked off with a focus on supporting dads in the workplace and the challenges presented by the Shared Parental Leave legislation. Dr Emma Banister from Alliance Manchester Business School, who chaired the session, spoke about her work on the Making Room for Dad project on fathers and fathering. The project, which she co–leads with Dr Ben Kerrane (Lancaster University Management School), revolves around the role of dads in the crucial first year after their child is born where patterns of sharing care are established which can have a big impact on women's career progression.
It has been looking at the experience of couples who have taken the leave and key issues that emerged were the need for better communication of the policy, which is very complicated, enhancing Shared Parental Pay, supporting dads more during periods of leave and a suggestion that drop-in sessions rather than sending out information might work better since each families’ circumstances differed.
Employers themselves talked about the importance of role models, but said it was difficult to find senior role model since many senior managers already had children. They felt that flexible working was more of a focus for them and was crucial to changing the culture at work and that this would enable greater choice over sharing of care responsibilities between mums and dads.
Lloyds Banking Group, which hosted the event, described a huge appetite for parenting information from dads. Their colleague network, Family Matters, normally gets 300-400 people listening into lunchtime sessions on parenting issues, but the ones on issues relating to dads get 800 people and more. Other participants had also seen a huge interest from men in information and support for those with caring responsibilities.
On returner programmes, the roundtable discussed expectations that career breaks would become the norm and that supported return therefore made increasing business sense. All those who had run programmes spoke of the high calibre of candidates they had seen, although many had confidence issues due to the time they had taken out of the workplace. They said the quality of candidates meant the programmes were gaining a good reputation. Many felt they needed to offer specific returner roles rather than doing a general call-out for skills so that those taking part were not disappointed. They also spoke about the need for a different way of assessing recruits who were returners, based on potential rather than current achievements, and the need for more support and preparation before assessments. Flexible working was again highlighted as a key issue.
What was clear from the discussion was a real desire to make progress on complex issues of culture change.
*A white paper giving full details of discussions, ranging from support for dads, flexible working and internal mobility to childcare support and returner initiatives is available for free here.
Mandy Garner is editor of workingmums.co.uk, a jobs and news site on issues relating to gender equality and family friendly working.