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Vodafone’s ambition is simple: to be the best employer of women by 2025. To achieve this, it is looking at innovative ways to improve its attraction and retention of women.
One of these is through its global maternity policy, which has brought a lot of interest from other employers and has won a lot of coverage internationally. “We want to be an attractive employer for women across the world,” says Karina Govindji, Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “We want to be a company that provokes global conversations about these issues.”
The mandatory policy, which won the 2016 Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Innovation in Flexible Working, was introduced in April 2015 at a time when very few organisations outside the UN had a minimum global maternity policy. It applies across the 26 local markets Vodafone operates in, from Europe to Africa, India and the Middle East. The policy guarantees women a minimum of 16 weeks maternity leave at full pay and enables them to go back to work for four days a week on full pay for the first six months.
Previously, maternity policy was set according to the local context. In some countries, female employees were getting more than 16 weeks of full pay – in the UK, for instance, the maternity leave was already more generous and this has continued – but in some other countries women were getting significantly less time off.
In the first year after it was introduced 1,700 women – 300 from the UK – have benefited from the policy.
Many other companies have asked about it, particularly about the business case, commissioned by Vodafone from KPMG, which showed that recruiting and training new employees to replace women who do not stay in the workforce after having a baby costs global businesses $47 billion every year, while offering women 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave would cost businesses an additional $28 billion a year – a cost saving of $19 billion.
Additionally, KPMG calculated that offering mothers a global return-to-work policy could save working mothers a cumulative $14 billion in childcare for their new babies; and showed that a four-day week would enable them to spend a cumulative 608 million additional days with their newborn babies.
The policy is supported by the company’s Better Ways of Working flexible working programme, Vodafone`s response to agile and collaborative working.
Although several companies have taken on board some elements of the global maternity policy, Karina thinks fewer companies have included the phased return on full pay. She hopes that analysis over time will show the impact of the phased return on attraction and retention.
She adds that the addition of the return to work element can be a strong pull in places like the UK where there is already a strong paid maternity policy and where childcare issues can be a barrier to return. “The power of the policy comes from offering these two aspects together,” says Karina. “Women need more time to be at home with their baby and the transition back is often more difficult than it should be. Companies are losing too many women in the first year back from maternity leave. Our phased transition means women do not have to make a financial sacrifice to get through that transition period. We think that is a cost worth incurring.”
Initial figures seem to back up the retention argument, she says. However, the full impact of the policy on issues such as retention, attraction and the number of women in senior leadership positions will not be clear until it has been in place for three years so that the company can compare it to the three-year period Vodafone looked at before it was introduced.
Vodafone is also involved in other initiatives aimed at gender equality and diversity. For instance, it is one of 10 companies approached by UN Women in 2015 to be part of the HeForShe programme. This involves three commitments to gender equality. The first is to having 30% of its senior leadership and management made up of women by 2020 [Vodafone globally is at 27% currently – up from 23% five years ago – and 33% of its UK managers are women].
The other commitments involve supporting women in developing countries to connect via mobile technology and educating three million children – many girls – in refugee camps by 2020. Vodafone’s CEO Vittorio Colao personally backs the HeForShe campaign and speaks publicly about his support for initiatives that promote women’s equality. He has written to many of Vodafone’s key suppliers about the campaign. So far nearly 50,000 people have signed up to HeForShe via Vodafone’s site.
Vodafone also has an unconscious bias programme called ‘Moments of Truth’ that it has rolled out to all its leaders over the last year and will promote to all employees to provoke discussion and raise awareness of biases.
Karina adds that all the initiatives Vodafone is engaged in are constantly evolving. “We keep pushing forwards. We won’t stop here,” she says.