Best practice under the microscope at the Top Employer Awards

A panel discussion at the’s Top Employer Awards highlighted examples of best practice.


WM People Working Mum Awards 2023

How can we get SMEs to take on more returners? What can employers do to understand the mental health challenges in their sector? How can we get more take-up of equal or shared parental leave policies?

This year’s Top Employer Awards saw a discussion on a range of best practice issues.

In a Q & A with the Awards’ judges and keynote speaker Jane Portas OBE, chaired by judge Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership for Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions, the panel were asked about what stood out for them from the Award entries.

Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management, said she was interested in how the definition of diversity was being interpreted more broadly and in innovation, such as how J Murphy & Sons had launched a returner programme aimed at prison leavers. She said that while innovation was laudable, those organisations that have sustained their efforts to be more inclusive and family friendly over longer periods of time and are seeing real results should not be forgotten. “These organisations are heroes too,” she said. “They have taken the long view and invested and got results.”

Dave Dunbar, Head of Digital Workspace at the Department of Work and Pensions, also commented on the breadth of the work being done on diversity and the increasing focus on disability and neurodiversity.

Kim Chaplain, Associate Director for Work of the Centre for Ageing Better and a new judge this year, said she was very impressed by the rigour of the judging process, the quality of the entries, the way employers are measuring impact, the way they had taken the opportunity to think differently about work and the fact that they had not taken their foot off the pedal.

Salma Shah, Writer and Founder of Mastering your Power, and another new judge, said it is important that organisations are truly inclusive and that they are moving from awareness to action. She said she was ‘blown away’ by many entries.

For Andy Lake, director of, what stood out was the normalisation of flexible working, however that was interpreted, and the support for line managers and remote workers as well as the way SMEs are recruiting on a flexible basis, diversity initiatives, for instance, on neurodiversity and the holistic approach to that which recognises the role of workplace design and technology in building inclusion.

Jennifer Liston-Smith’s highlights included Lloyds Banking Group’s advocacy of job shares, split shifts and compressed hours for senior managers; the way some employers were addressing international working [for instance, Paddle allows employees to work from any location for 45 days a year]; Aggregate Industries’ listening circles and coaching; Vistry Group’s recognition of the high male suicide rate in construction and its outreach work on this supporting its partner Papyrus, a suicide prevention charity.

Vistry Group spoke of how it had organised a Vistry Voyage campaign to raise money for Papyrus which involved taking a book of shared experiences of suicide across its offices in the UK by bike, on foot or by boat from the North to its Exeter office where a young employee had committed suicide in 2020.

This drew a round of applause as Liston-Smith commented that Covid had very much blurred the line between work and home.

Older workers

The judges also addressed subjects including the concerns about rising economic inactivity among older workers. Kim Chaplain said initiatives to tempt people back have to address the reasons they dropped out and why the labour market is not currently working for them. That includes addressing ageism in recruitment, such as the language and images used in job adverts, ensuring the work culture is welcoming, explicitly targeting older workers and specifically mentioning the types of flexible working an employer offers.  “Those people who have left need to be coaxed back. You can’t mandate it,” she said.

Clare Kelliher said enabling people to take career breaks as we all work longer is vital, as is part-time working innovation. Many older workers might want to return part time. Her research on flexible furlough shows managers feel more confident about managing part-time workers as a result of using flexible furlough and recommends more innovative part-time pilots. Liston-Smith added that employers should acknowledge openly their support for those with caring responsibilities.

J Murphy & Sons Ltd also spoke about their returners initiative for prison leavers. They worked on a pilot with a large main prison who identified prisoners with six months remaining of their sentence who could be given training and support to offer people a second chance through work opportunities after they leave prison that break the cycle of reoffending.

Parental leave

The Q & A also addressed the issue of greater equality at home. Jennifer Liston-Smith said encouraging dads to take more parental leave is down to pay and added that many employers are now offering equal parental pay.

david blackburn at Q & A, TEAs

WM People Working Mum Awards 2023

David Blackburn [pictured right], Chief People Officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme {FSCS], spoke of the importance of sharing examples of dads taking parental leave to normalise it. The FSCS offers six months equal parental leave on full pay for all types of parental leave, including adoption leave, and has a 100% take-up record.  It emphasises in its policy and its communications that families come in all shapes and sizes in order to change perceptions. Having that policy was a major investment decision, said Blackburn, but the cost had to be balanced by the return on investment in terms of increased engagement, trust, inclusion, attraction and retention. He added that the biggest advocates of the policy are the fathers – they spread the word to other dads and overcome reticence linked to fears about how taking the leave will affect career progression.

For Jane Portas, creator of 6 Moments That Matter, it is about changing social attitudes about mums being the main carer. She said employers need to take into account the financial impact on women’s ability to progress of not having equal parental leave policies because most of the unpaid work falls to them. She argued that individuals also need to understand better the long-term financial implications of their choices around parental leave, for instance, the gender pension gap which results from women taking on the lion’s share of unpaid caring roles.

Dave Dunbar added that employers also need to think about grandparent leave.

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