How have financial services supported parents in the pandemic?

A webinar last week focused on how some financial services companies have managed during the pandemic and what they have learnt, particularly when it comes to employees who have caring responsibilities.


What has the finance sector learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic so far? A Bright Horizons webinar last week focused on the impact on parents and carers.

Bright Horizons’ recent polling showed four in 10 working parents say their work and career has been negatively affected by Covid-19. Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership, Coaching & Consultancy at Bright Horizons UK, chaired the session and kicked off by saying it doesn’t feel parents are out of the woods yet. How do we encourage employers to make sure the window of patience remains open for working parents, she asked.

Diversity and inclusion consultant Jenny Barrow, former Head of Corporate Responsibility for the Financial Conduct Authority, said the finance sector had pivoted to remote working quickly, putting paid to all the old myths that it could not be done and that the Financial Conduct Authority would not allow it due to confidentiality issues. The pandemic had also shown that the IT infrastructure had the capacity to adapt and begged questions about what companies already had that they were not fully exploiting. 

Barrow added that the importance of data to drive the diversity and inclusion agenda had become clear – for instance, the high response to pulse surveys showed how much people wanted their voices to be heard. The data had also highlighted just how many staff had caring responsibilities, she said. Black Lives Matter had also exposed a lack of data. Another issue that Covid underlined was the importance of line managers and of empathy. Line managers had had to deal with difficult personal challenges such as bereavement, said Barrow.

Empathy and emotional connections

Gareth Ashley-Jones, Head of International Benefits at financial services company Wells Fargo, spoke of the early days of panic as the company shifted 180,000 people around the world to remote working in two weeks so the business could continue. The company had then looked at the support it offered, particularly to carers and had adopted a consistent global approach. They offered cash reimbursement to carers who could not get care in their homes and carers’ leave of up to five days, reviewed compassionate leave and introduced a survivors’ toolkit, for instance, giving line managers advice on how to support dependants if a team member had died. The latter was adapted to different cultural contexts. Wells Fargo also reviewed their benefits package to ensure it extended health cover for a team member who died to their dependants to the end of the benefits year [normally it ended on the person’s death].

They had already established well being champions across five regions the year before and these went online as take-up soared. The company also put on well being sessions such as yoga and Desert Island Discs where senior leaders spoke about their feelings about Covid through the music they chose. The aim was to show that everyone was going through the pandemic and to stress people’s emotional connections to each other and the fact that they were not alone. They also held remote coffee mornings, provided support through their employee assistance programme and encouraged line managers to tell people to take their holidays so they could recharge.

Coming together

Sarah Boddey, chief diversity officer for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific at Northern Trust, said they had planned for a pandemic and already worked flexibly, although less so in some regions of the world. What they had not planned fully for was the global nature of the pandemic. They had pivoted to remote working quickly, but it had taken longer in some regions of the world and that had meant moving work around. She reported a “roll up your sleeves” attitude with everyone pitching in and non-parents helping parents who were managing homeschooling and childcare while working. “There was a real sense of coming together,” she said. The company, which also offered more bereavement support and coaching as a result of Covid, was in the middle of an IT upgrade and major refurbishment so the pandemic had given them an opportunity to rethink how they used office space.

Jennifer Liston-Smith spoke of the five building blocks that working parents need in the pandemic, including flexible or hybrid working, practical support such as back-up care, especially for key workers, coaching/buddies to provide more support and access to well being events. In a Q & A session the panel further discussed the move to hybrid working and the likely increase in contract-based working and part-time work that they felt Covid would bring. Jenny Barrow said the pandemic had highlighted the importance of engagement and that a sense of connection with clients and customers was as vital as a connection to employers.

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