Parents held back from progression, says report

A new report from Leaders Plus finds many parents are not being encouraged to progress in their jobs despite a large appetite to do so.

Career Progression


Parents are being held back at work and their skills are being underutilised because of a lack of flexible working in senior roles, unrealistic workloads and a lack of proactive encouragement to progress and line manager support, according to a new report, which says half of mums think parenting is holding them back in their careers.

The Career progression gaps: The next frontier report by Leaders Plus, based on an online survey of 878 parents, found 61% of parents would like to progress within the next two years and 86% within five years, but since returning to work only 48% said they had been promoted and only 30% think promotion is likely. But parents don’t see parenting as a barrier themselves: half feel it’s made them more productive.

The minority (25%) of parents who did not feel held back by having children were more likely to feel their organisation offered good opportunities for working parents to progress and that the CEO and leadership team were supportive, says the report. 66% said more role models of working parents with children in senior roles is extremely or very important to their motivation to progress. Flexible working is key, including informal flexibility around unexpected family issues.

Many parents have been dissuaded from applying for promotion because of workload or flexibility concerns. 67% of mums said they had decided against applying for promotion in the past due to their caring responsibilities, with half saying the required start and finish times of the job didn’t fit with caring responsibilities. Yet there was little reporting of negotiation. The report says: “Parents are accepting or moving on rather than driving demand, which suggests HR teams need to take the proactive role in offering this.”

In addition,  the report found that supportive line managers are much more important to parents than supportive policies in terms of what people most value in their employer (34% against 11%), underscoring the importance of culture. The report found an inconsistency in the support offered by line managers, with only 27% advocating for the parent and just 32% offering opportunities to progress. There are concerns line managers aren’t always aware of or enabling access to supportive policies.

When it comes to recommendations, the report says employers are missing out on a valuable talent pool for future leaders and calls on them to monitor their progression and flexible working data more closely and set targets around it.  That includes monitoring the number of flexible working requests and rejections by departments and the number of people with caring responsibilities in director level roles and above.  It adds that employers should create a target for the number of people in director level roles working flexibly, including those working part time.

It also calls for more senior role models and for employers to consider using recruitment firms with a track record in recruiting part-time or flexible roles for director level appointments to increase senior representation.

In addition the report covers job design and recommends that jobs are advertised as flexible by default and that workload expectations are clearly defined in job descriptions by including how workload and responsibility would alter to reflect part-time hours. It says line managers need to be trained in how to support workload effectively, including how to manage by outcomes and how to performance manage part-time staff. One idea is to create an advisory and support panel for parents with a direct connection to the Executive to ensure parents’ voice is heard within the organisation.

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