John Lewis was named Overall Top Employer for Workingmums.co.uk last week. We spoke to Carole Donaldson, Manager, Resourcing, to find out what makes it so outstanding.
The John Lewis Partnership is celebrating scooping not just the Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Award for childcare, but the Overall Top Employer Award. Carole Donaldson, Manager, Resourcing, said working mums are at the core of the organisation, but the awards were a pleasant surprise. “We weren't expecting to win anything,” she says.
The Awards recognised John Lewis' outstanding contribution to supporting working parents and its comprehensive childcare offering. The partnership was also shortlisted for its work on employee engagement, where its structure and approach – all staff are partners - makes it a beacon employer.
The Childcare Award was not just about one-off initiatives such as company creches. John Lewis was recognised for a whole series of policies and practices, including its childcare vouchers, its package of family-related benefits such as discounts on trips to theme parks and its policy of allowing partners to work longer hours in busy periods and bank hours to take time off during less busy times, such as the summer holidays. “It's not just about looking at one thing. It's easy to dip a toe in and tick the childcare box. We try to look at what a family needs to make it easier for them to work, what our benefits would look like for individuals and what a family would use, such as days out in Legoland,” says Donaldson.
Other benefits include discounts at John Lewis shops, regional events for families and a meet Santa event at John Lewis' head office.
The family outings recognise the fact that there is a social aspect to returning to work, says Donaldson. “Some of our people come back on one day a week. They say it's not about the money. It's more about the mental and social stimulation,” she says.
For this reason, the organisation also supports partners who want to do leisure learning. She adds that the fact that John Lewis is a female-dominated organisation [55% of staff are women] means women who go back to work after maternity leave are often working with other mums who can give them support and help them develop their own networks.
The partnership is clear that there are strong business benefits to offering support to working parents, including increased motivation.
Donaldson says it is keen to increase the number of senior women in the partnership. Up to department manager level the organisation is female dominated, but at director level Donaldson recognises there is still work to do. She says there are female directors, but these tend to be in personnel and finance. “We need to work on other areas,” she says, “but we need female applicants. What we are doing is trying to appeal to senior women with the right skills who may not have a background in the retail industry. We want to re-educate people about how family friendly the industry can be.”
She adds that many senior level posts are worked flexibly. Several store managers work part time. One female finance director, who has just left her post, worked part time. “We are not just talking the talk, We have flexible opportunities at all levels,” says Donaldson. She adds that partners can develop and progress at different stages. “We recognise that people want to work differently at different times,” she says, citing a recent interview for a head of branch with a person who had been doing a less onerous job before. “She had children at university and secondary school and felt it was time to go for a different type of job with more responsibility,” says Donaldson, saying such moves upwards show the business case for retaining staff.
Donaldson has been at John Lewis for 19 years. She says the initiative she feels has made most impact is allowing all partners to request flexible working. “At the time, it was amazing, but it was right for us as we are very forward-focused. We felt all partners should have the same rights and that just because they didn't have kids that did not mean they didn't have other responsibilities,” she says.
Donaldson says that John Lewis' director of personnel was “over the moon” to win the Workingmums.co.uk awards. She also said the awards event, with its networking element, was a chance to swap ideas about best practice in family friendly working. Donaldson was interested to link up with Prudential, which won the Employee Engagement Award which John Lewis won last year and was runner-up for this year. The judges praised Prudential's new initiatives whilst recognising John Lewis' continuing excellence in the field. Donaldson said the partnership would be taking on one initiative which she had heard about at the awards – setting up a closed Facebook site for returning mums.
Clearly, the partnership is keen to listen not just to its own staff, but to what others are doing and to continue innovating. “We want to listen to our partners to find out what can make John Lewis different,” says Donaldson. “We want to offer them something unique.”