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HSBC is the first company to guarantee women returning from maternity leave part-time work at the same level as when they left.
What difference would it make to you if you knew that you could return to work after maternity leave and have a guaranteed part-time job at the same level that you had when you left?
HSBC is the first company to introduce such a policy guaranteeing women can return on two and a half days a week. The reasons are straightforward. The banking firm has been looking for a number of years at how to get more women into management roles, says Sue Jex, Head of Employee Relations.
“We looked at where women’s careers tend to plateau even if only temporarily and we found that it was when they went on maternity leave and came back. Men tended to be powering through for those two to three years while women’s careers went on hold,” she says.
The firm wanted to get more women to return from maternity leave and continue their career trajectory. Research it conducted at an individual level showed that if women could come back part time and keep at the same grade more would come back and keep their career going ensuring there was a pipeline of female talent coming through. The research included a series of telephone interviews with returners. Sue herself rang up 30 or 40 women to find out what their experience was.
Then last year the head of HSBC’s UK bank Joe Garner posted a blog about his observations on why women in sport did not get the recognition they deserved and asked whether this was the same in business and why. The blog drew 100s of comments, up to 70% of them from women employees. “It gave people confidence to contribute to the debate,” says Sue.
The new policy was announced internally in November and went live on 1st January. “It has excited a lot of interest around the organisation,” says Sue. “We have around 1,000 women on maternity leave at any one time and some of them have started to come back since January so we have already had some take-up. Even if they don’t take up the scheme it allows them to have a conversation about these issues. It has changed the nature of the conversation women have with their managers and it makes us work harder to see how we can make things work.”
She says even if the job a woman has cannot be done part time she believes there are few jobs that cannot be done by packaging them differently or as a job share. “Most people don’t work the traditional full-time hours any more. We’re an international bank and our business is 24/7,” she says.
On job shares, she says that HSBC has a job share register to help match up people with similar skills. It started up around four years ago and allows people who are interested in job shares to register that they are looking for a partner and to list what their skills are and where they are willing to travel to. “It’s like a dating board but for job shares,” says Sue. She adds that the board didn’t have many women registered on it before the new policy came into effect, which made it more difficult to find partners. However, she says usage is up now so she thinks the success rate will rise.
She adds that, as long as they understand people’s working patterns, clients are happy to fit in with the policy. “In any event people always have their Blackberries and can pick up urgent messages or refer them to colleagues,” she states.
Individual cases will be reviewed and women are able to build up their hours gradually. “As a large organisation we can be flexible as long as we have enough notice and can prepare people,” says Sue.
Managers have access to help and advice on how to tailor jobs to fit new working patterns.
Other businesses have expressed an interest in talking to HSBC in three or four months’ time once the policy has had time to bed in and they can see how it works in practice. The firm will review the whole policy in June. “It’s a serious step in looking at women and their career progression and it shows women that we are prepared to do something very active and innovative about it,” says Sue.
One mum who says the policy is one that she would have benefited from is Corinne Urquhart, an area premier manager with HSBC. She took a year’s maternity leave when she had her daughter and returned to work about a year ago. She was faced with the option of coming back full time to her role or resigning. Luckily, she had built up good contacts and used them to find a similar job to the one she was doing before but on a part-time basis three days a week at a different location.
“Having a guarantee to be able to return part time prevents women being put in my position,” she says. “Being able to spend valuable time with your children motivates you and makes you want to work harder. For instance, I am willing to put in a bit extra on my days off. I want to give something back to the people who have helped me. It makes a massive difference to me to be able to spend time with my daughter and to make the most of her early years,” says Corinne, who adds that eventually she wants to return to full-time hours.
“Even though not everyone can afford to go part time it’s good to have that option. It will lift barriers and leave open doors to people who thought they could not continue their career and might have left the business,” she comments.
Corinne says there is no resentment from her team members that she works part time since they know her work pattern and know she is always available on her Blackberry. “It’s about setting expectations and about good communication,” she says.
She adds that she believes she is “a better mum” through working part time because she loves her job and gets a sense of achievement and belonging. “It’s nice to have a balance and it’s given me back a bit of my identity. I’m not just a mum,” she says.