Parental coaching

Dads-to-be who want to share their partner’s maternity leave are being invited to take part in an extensive paternity coaching programme run by professional services firm Ernst & Young.

Dads-to-be who want to share their partner’s maternity leave are being invited to take part in a paternity coaching programme run at professional services firm Ernst & Young.

The company started up a cohesive maternity coaching programme in January and since April, when new additional paternity legislation came into effect, it has been open to new dads who wish to share the mother’s parental leave after their baby is born.

So far no dads have come forward, but Liz Bingham, a partner at Ernst & Young with expertise in restructuring, says it is early days still. The company is also looking to extend the voluntary programme eventually to all new dads once it has got sufficient data from mothers to show its value.

Bingham says: “We realise that parenthood is equally life altering for men and women.”

Ernst & Young is also seeking to “refresh” its language around the family benefits it offers, such as childcare vouchers, to remind staff that they include not just dads but adoptive parents and gay and lesbian parents. Instead of referring to maternity or paternity leave which suggests birth parents, for instance, it will refer to parental leave. “We don’t want to inadvertently disenfranchise anyone and we want to stay ahead of the game on these issues,” says Bingham, adding that the company has offices in the Channel Islands which do not recognise civil partnerships. However, all Ernst & Young employees there have the same benefits as those in the UK. One lesbian employee there, for instance, has just had her first child and took advantage of the company’s parental leave policy.

Maternity coaching
The maternity coaching programme which was launched in January has already had around 250 women going through it.

Before January, the company did offer maternity coaching, but Bingham says this was very ad hoc. “The idea is to make this much more formalised as we regard it as a very important area we want to invest in,” she says.

The programme, which is led by the Talking Talent company, is run in three stages. The first stage is while the woman is still working and planning her maternity leave. It focuses on issues such as positive handovers which minimise the impact of her maternity leave on the business. It also provides support to the women by flushing out any anxieties they might have. Bingham says the main anxieties seem to centre around how the woman will be perceived when she returns to work by both her clients and her team, how she will manage her workload and whether she will have access to the same career opportunities as before. “We want to make sure they understand that having a baby is not career threatening. It’s a life enhancing event. We want to give women the confidence to have that conversation and to be both realistic and demanding of the firm,” says Bingham.

The second stage is when they are on maternity leave and are starting to think about coming back. The women use their Keeping in Touch days to do the programme which looks at their expectations of the business and the business’ expectations about them, given that their priorities may have shifted considerably since they gave birth. “It’s about preparing them for a confident return to work,” says Bingham.

The third stage occurs when they are back at work and is about making sure their reintegration is smooth and that communication of any potential problems is good.

The programme also provides mandatory coaching for counsellors and counselling managers. Bingham says the programme is voluntary for mums, but if a mum decides to go on the programme their counsellor or counselling manager, who is usually their line manager, must take part in the coaching so they can learn how to support her and provide a supportive environment when she returns to the office.

More senior women have one to one maternity coaching, while those lower down the scale have coaching in groups of three to four. Bingham says it is too early for empirical data on the programme, but the anecdotal feedback is good. “One senior manager from a regional office went through the programme for her second child and said it was like night and day from what she experienced the first time around. She said she felt she could create opportunities for herself and be quite demanding,” she stated.

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