What’s next for best practice on family-friendly, flexible and inclusive working?

A discussion at the WM People Top Employer Awards looked at what good looks like today and what it might look like tomorrow.

Top Employer Awards 2024 panel


What makes a good employer and what are the gaps that good employers may be missing?

A session at the WM People Top Employer Awards saw the judges talking about their highlights and where good practice goes next. Andy Lake, editor of Flexibility.co.uk, highlighted employers who take a strategic approach to flexible work, what he described as a dynamic rather than a compliance approach, and who have a supportive infrastructure around that, for instance, when it comes to technology.  He was also impressed by the innovation going on and singled out ServiceNow’s ambitious NextGen programme which aims to help people from marginalised communities gain the digital skills they need for a more high tech world as well as Murphy’s approach to hiring neurodiverse people.

Salma Shah, founder of Mastering your power, pointed out the number of entries that showed evidence that an intersectional lens was being taken to every part of family friendly working rather than diversity and inclusion just being seen as a tag on or something they do on the side. “It is the golden thread that runs all the way through what they do,” she said, adding that any campaign needs to begin by asking if it is speaking to everyone. “I feel we are moving the dial in that direction,” she said, adding that she would like to see the diversity and inclusion category not having to exist in the future because D & I will be embedded in every category.

Kim Chaplain, Associate Director of the Centre for Ageing Better, highlighted the work many employers are doing to share what they do externally to really make a difference and move ‘beyond the boundaries’. Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management, liked how organisations had moved from taking a piecemeal approach to progress, based on different individual initiatives, to developing a greater coherence underpinned by a guiding mindset. And she appreciated how they are gathering data that shows over time the things that make a difference. Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership for Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions, chaired the session. She also mentioned how granular the data gathered can be as well as the range of family support offered by employers, including emergency back-up care and all underpinned by flexible working.


The judges were asked about supporting neurodiverse employees. Andy Lake spoke about the British Standards document on designing for neurodiversity and about the case studies in his new book, Beyond Hybrid Working, which include workplace design and how employers are looking at workplace acoustics and whether they are suitable for neurodiverse employees.

Dawn Moore Group People & Communications Director at Murphy, said they work in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders to help get  neurodiverse candidates into work and added that line manager training is important. Their initiative has made them look differently at how they induct neurodiverse candidates, for instance, they design their onboarding programme with candidate’s family members who know best what works on a day to day basis.

Remaining gaps

Another question was about what gaps the judges thought still need to be plugged.  Salma Shah said social mobility needs to be more of a focus and she praised Motel One, winner of the Top Employer Award for Learning and Development, for their work in this respect.  Lake singled out the need to think more holistically about inclusion by linking up, for instance, technology teams and HR. For Kelliher it is long-term health issues and getting the economically inactive back to work that need more of an emphasis, with more innovative approaches to flexible working for those who might not be able to work full time or regularly.

Chaplain mentioned the need to spread best practice more widely to partner organisations and through employers’ supply chains. “It’s about how you can swell and bring other organisations with you,” she said. “We don’t just want the best to get better and better, leaving a big gap with the others.” Liston-Smith spoke about the importance of equal parenting policies because women will never be equal at work until men are equal at home.

Employer examples

The session also heard from 4PS, winners of the Best for Mental Health Award, who said that having inclusive policies has made them stronger as a business. They have created a group for younger people to get feedback from them and to give them a stronger voice within the organisation and many are very committed to diversity and inclusion and help to champion the company’s policies. They focus on what the individual needs and where their strengths lie.

ServiceNow, which won the Overall Top Employer award, talked their digital upskilling programme for underrepresented people and refugees. It lasts six months and then ServiceNow works with its partners to find the people on the programme jobs.  ServiceNow said the scale and ambition of the programme made people think creatively about what might be possible.

Deutsche Bank spoke about how to address DEI backlash and its impact on senior leadership. They said they targeted senior leaders with a particular passion for DEI and set up diversity champions who will disseminate information. Action to support DEI is a KPI against which they are assessed. They gave the example of a senior leader who is a dad who had championed the change from two weeks paternity leave to 16. 

Andy Lake also addressed the backlash against flexible working and advised managers to push back against senior leadership and try to get them to think through their policies more and understand their workforce better. Kelliher said DEI experts should think about engaging people outside their own organisation and using collaborative relationships to push back against the backlash.

*You can read about who won the Awards here.

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