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Jessica Heagren launched the new programme after her report on career barriers for working mothers went viral.
When Jessica Heagren put a survey for working mothers on her LinkedIn page last year, she thought she might get 100 responses if she was lucky. Within two weeks, she’d received over 800.
Heagren, a former insurance industry executive who’d become a consultant on how employers could support working mothers, started combing through the data about the career barriers that these women faced. At the start of this year, she published her survey’s findings – and again she was overwhelmed by the response.
“I [posted] it on LinkedIn and it went viral…it had hundreds of thousands of views and downloads,” she says. “And over the next 6-8 weeks, more than 100 organisations got in touch with me and said: ‘What can we do? How do we fix this?’ ”
Heagren started researching the best way forward and this autumn she launched the Careers After Babies accreditation scheme, where employers undergo assessments and make changes to become accredited as a parent-friendly workplace. Her first clients include Paramount International, a broadcasting company, and Search Laboratory, a digital marketing agency.
Careers After Babies also offers a membership and certification scheme for smaller companies that have fewer than 250 employees.
Heagren’s report shows that UK workplaces still have some way to go with supporting mothers. While 98% of the mums surveyed wanted to work, many were leaving companies where they once thrived. Some had been put into different roles when they returned from maternity leave, while others couldn’t get the flexibility they now needed.
These findings are echoed in other recent surveys. More than one in ten working mothers with young children have left a job in recent years, due to the challenges of balancing work and childcare, according to a report published this week. Less than a third were able to secure the flexible working arrangements they wanted.
Yet Heagren is upbeat – she sees many employers that want to change this situation. “I think organisations today have a different social conscience to what they had before…and there’s a recognition that, if I’m able to give this person what they need for a period of time, then that [will be] repaid tenfold in terms of loyalty [and] productivity,” she says.
When an employer signs up for Careers After Babies accreditation, Heagren conducts a detailed assessment of their current policies, culture, and outcomes for working parents. She then works with a board of experts to create a roadmap for them to achieve accreditation.
Heagren says it could take a company months or years to work through this plan and become accredited, depending on how much change is needed. Once a company is accredited, this status will be reviewed every three years.
“This is about transformation, not ticking boxes – and I’m really quite clear about that from the beginning,” says Heagren, a working mother with four children under the age of 10. “If you’re not willing to make the changes…then you won’t become accredited.”
Careers After Babies is one of a crop of accreditation schemes, run by independent companies and launched in recent years, that allow employers to show a formalised commitment to supporting women in the workplace.
Fertility Matters at Work runs a “fertility-friendly” accreditation programme, which focuses on how employers can support staff who are undergoing fertility treatments. Burgess Mee, a London law firm, and Cornwall Council are among those that have gained the accreditation thus far. Another organisation runs a “menopause-friendly” accreditation scheme.
Heagren says that reforming a company’s culture is often the biggest piece of the puzzle, although her enterprise also offers a lot of technical support with HR policies. A lot rests on how it feels to work there, and how people talk to each other and treat each other.
“I often talk about this ‘death by a thousand cuts’ scenario [for working mothers]. Every one of those little times that somebody says ‘baby brain’, or ‘You’re going off on [maternity] leave and I won’t see you again,’ ” she says.
“I’m always very clear that…the policy is one part of it, but actually it’s how that policy is executed and embedded, and the culture around it, that really matters.”