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Employers are losing talent at crucial points due to a lack of sensitivity about the challenges facing working parents, says Max Jennings.
Remote-working, the gig economy, co-working spaces … how we work continues to rapidly evolve, but employer and legislative attitudes to parent employees remain slow to change.
There’s a lot of incredible talent lost, needlessly so, when parents fail to fulfil their full potential returning to work, simply because their employer can’t provide the added flexibility that their life now requires. A recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that each year 54,000 women are forced out of work after having a baby! Same person, same talent, same experience, but no longer valued at their employer.
I’m lucky to work with a lot of incredible parents from a wide range of professional backgrounds who have started their own businesses. Most commonly, these inspirational entrepreneurs started out because their previous employment couldn’t support the work/life balance they wanted for their family.
To dig a bit deeper, we recently commissioned research speaking to 2,000 parents to understand the drivers behind going it alone. Amongst the results, a quarter of working mums and dads (24%) said that the inflexibility of a previous workplace was a key driving factor encouraging them to go it alone, and reinforcing our earlier assumptions.
After having children most parents worlds are turned upside down as they start to navigate the beautiful mess that parenting is. Priorities change and even getting the family out the house on time and getting to the office can leave you feeling like you’ve accidentally signed up to be in escape rooms, albeit a weird parent version which sees you madly shouting ‘where are your shoes?!’ to be able to get out.
It’s certainly not an easy problem to fix. Offices exist for a reason, childcare is eye-wateringly expensive, no amount of company holiday will ever cover the school holidays, and there’s parent guilt at every corner. We need to reset the way we think about work, and offer the flexibility that parents need.
I’ve employed hundreds of people in my career, and know the realities of running a successful business. Recognising the needs of parents needn’t mean compromising on the goals of your company or creating a two-tier system for parents and non-parents; but it does require a sensitive approach to how you coordinate core work hours and a willingness to create roles that support shorter working weeks. Lastly, creating an environment where there’s no shame in leaving loudly to make time for family outside of the office.
The good news from our study is that after becoming a parent a lot of people also go for it and launch their own businesses. Half of self-employed parents (49%) report feeling happier and a third more empowered (33%), but what about the others? The people who have felt pushed out of the workplace and are struggling to find their way back in.
With the average age of becoming a mum 31 and a dad 33 – we have the opportunity to engage talent with such incredible experience. It would be a shame in 2019 to add to the number of people leaving the workforce because of a need for greater flexibility. As a dad of two young daughters, I for one don’t want them to enter a workplace that means starting a family will stall their career.
Max Jennings is one of the founders of kids activities app Hoop.