Parental Transitions - who else is affected?

March 22, 2013 | comments

Parental Transitions - who else is affected?

We often get complimented on our ability to bring together peers from across HR, Diversity and L&D; where they can discuss key topics, share experiences and network with other like-minded people. We recently co-hosted a small roundtable with Ernst & Young, looking at three key topics:

  1. How can we engage female talent when they’re just beginning to think about what starting a family would mean for them?
  2. How can we increase retention of female talent up to five years after their return from a maternity transition?
  3. How can we truly embed line manager best practice around managing female talent through maternity transitions and beyond?

We really wanted to focus on getting some creative ideas out there, which would stimulate some resourceful actions. Here’s a summary of some of those ideas:

For those who are thinking about starting a family

Our research showed that a third of women in their 20’s and 30’s, without children, were thinking about starting a family and envisaging problems within their organisations.

This is generally the unknown population, making it even harder for organisations to get to grips with how to engage them. With so many of them looking around and making career decisions, before you even realise it’s an issue, they’ve left for greener pastures. So, where do you start?

  • Broadening communications; make the organisation’s approach and policies explicit even before people are recruited.
  • Lunch and Learn sessions with senior women; these can be really useful in communicating out to people how others make it work and what’s possible, however they may need to be carefully positioned, as those who have not announced their intentions may be reluctant to put their hands up.
  • Tactics that foster trust; in order to overcome the issue highlighted above, running confidential sessions or webinars might be one way of encouraging people to attend.
  • Role modelling and celebration of organisation’s support for maternity/working parents/women. This is about widely promoting success stories and the support available for employees.
  • Technology solutions, such as intranet sites or portals that become the central place for all information & guidance. This could also be a good place to ask questions and share experiences through forums.

Up to five years after the maternity transition

Although many organisations are now actively supporting people through the immediate transition stages around becoming a parent, we know that the adjustment doesn’t stop once they’re back at work. There’s a steep learning curve up to five years after their leave, and this can bring with it constant re-evaluation of their career path and the fit with the organisation.

Here are some ideas for keeping these people with you:

  • Senior sponsors that are specifically assigned to individuals “to get them to partnership”. This type of intervention might be focused at specific grades or levels within the organisation. It was also suggested that these sponsors could be assigned automatically when an employee’s leave is announced, and would remain in place for a few years after their return to work.
  • Encouraging long-term thinking. Line Managers are typically not seen to be very good at thinking about the on-going careers of working parents, but this could make a real difference to women. One idea was to systematise prompts to encourage time-poor Line Managers to actively manage transitions and the longer term career.
  • Flexible working; getting the right day-to-day fit is essential for any working parent, and flexible working is becoming the tool of choice to make this happen. The next stage is to really make it as efficient and effective as possible – right from the start.
  • Conversations around flexible career paths; this means really thinking outside the box for many organisations, as they consider the complexities of accommodating alternative trajectories for their people. Talking about it and socialising it will be key to moving this idea feasible.

Embedding Line Manager best practice

The majority of our respondents told us that line managers are critical to their career progression, and many of our clients recognise what a difficult population they are to engage. This makes them a really important, but tough nut to crack.

Some solutions to think about:

  • Webinars with anonymous participation; no names encourage line managers to take part and talk about their own experiences.
  • 3-way coaching with the employee and their line manager encourages good communication and collaborative goal setting from the start.
  • Making softer skills relevant and interesting to Line Managers - broadening coaching or support and making it more focused on the Line Manager’s personal development and leadership might increase interest and motivation. Consider what messaging will make this an attractive proposition for this population.
  • Make it compulsory – some organisations have made Line Manager training or coaching compulsory recently.
  • HR specialist support – using internal specialists to facilitate processes and conversations. Perhaps use this to encourage people to use other supporting tools and initiatives, such as the TT Access Portal.
  • Sponsors or Mentors for career paths – matching employees to someone Senior who takes responsibility internally for their career path and development may help encourage them to take accountability.

We think the effective use of technology can play a key part in the support you offer in all three of these areas. With the launch of our new coaching-led portal, we decided to look further into the role technology solutions can have and created the first in our series of Insight Guides around this. We’ve also included a free stakeholder mapping tool to help you identify the groups that need support, at which stage of their journey it is required, and what form it might take. If you'd like to find out more, just click here to download your copy.


Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent