Mena McMahon, a member of the Cityparents Network Committee, gave the keynote speech below at the recent 'Top Employers for Working Families' Special Awards. Mena is Director, Capital Resolution, RBS and she is also Co-Chair of the RBS Families & Carers Network.
“Thank you Sarah for your very warm introduction and I am honoured to be asked to speak here to day.
I have attended these awards for a number of years now and each year I bring my pen and studiously note all the great initiatives and I am sure this years awards submissions will be no exception.
I hope to share some insights into my life as a working parent but also share what we know and what we are learning from our network members and fellow working parents.
As Sarah mentioned I am co-founder and co-chair of our Families and Carers Network at RBS and I am a committee member of Cityparents which has just under 10,000 individual members and nearly 80 corporate members in the City. So supporting parents and carers is a big part of who I am and what I do today. I also work 4 days a week as a Product Manager for RBS and I have two young boys ages 7 and 4!
Like many of you here today I am a working parent and for me, the daily work-life balance can be often be a real juggling act. While the early days of my sons clinging to my legs as I left the house each morning was never going to be easy, they grew rapidly to the point of them actually handing me coat and vigorously waving goodbye. On the other hand in the bewildered days of my return to work from my maternity leave, I wasn’t sure I had adapted to the change quite so well!
However, in the course of doing some research our Families and Carers network, I was quite pleased to discover that I am actually a fairly normal working mum!
In fact the majority of mothers believe it takes 6-12 months to feel ‘confident, credible and performing at pre-maternity leave levels’
On top of depleted confidence, there are feelings of dread upon returning to work, fitting back in and of course we cannot forget the endless guilt as we walk out the door generally shaking off a child or two!.
But once we have figured out the survival bit, how do we make it sustainable? How do we help the working parents stay today and become the leaders of tomorrow?
It will probably be no surprise to anyone here that according to our most recent survey the 2 top things that working parents want from their employers are 1. Help to progress their career and 2. Offer more flexible working.
We know working parents in the City want to progress their careers in a way that allows them to enjoy a meaningful home life as well, not at the expense of this. 79% of participants in our Cityparents July 2015 survey (across men & women) said their biggest challenge was establishing a work/life balance.
Here are some quotes covering what some of our Cityparents members had to say specifically:
- "Until companies open up to flexible working, they will lose valuable staff"
- "In my experience there is still a large policy and practice gap. Employers are keen to promote family friendly policies but implementation at the local level is rooted in old attitudes.”
- “It is almost impossible to be a working father these days. Society in London has evolved to the point where both partners share the childcare equally but only females are supported in the workplace … The biggest challenge is the disparity between peer acceptance of a man leaving the office to see his children/pick them up when ill and a woman”
- "Support all parents with flexibility, not just the returning mothers. Fathers need flexibility too to allow mothers to stay in career”
- “Stop regarding part-time workers as a sub-category of employee”
There is an ever increasing wealth of family-friendly policies. This is great - but we need to be able to translate these policies into reality and practice.
Senior management and line managers have an important role to play to promote a culture that accepts policies such as flexible working, where it can aid the employee and the organisation.
And as is the case still today in many organisations especially in the City, the long hours culture can often penalise those who need to balance work with caring responsibilities.
For every successfully managed flexible-working career, there are a considerable number where either flexible working has been denied or where it is unmanageable for working parents.
I recently participated in a panel discussion on flexible working and afterwards I spoke to one mother whose company was very proud of their Family Friendly policies. She tried to leave the office to be home for bedtime with her children as often as possible. However each evening she would log back on again and work, but tried to refrain from sending the emails, preferring to send them first thing the next morning so it did not appear that she needed to do the extra hours or could not manage her work life balance. This story is wrong on so many levels!
Offering family-friendly, flexible working practices is a win-win for employers and employees - Family friendly policies are not just lip service, they will have an impact on the bottom-line, and they are fundamental to the future of organisations and fundamental to the future of leadership.
Agile/flexible working can reduce employment costs for companies and improve productivity, as well as meet the needs of employees looking to balance their work & home lives. The UK is relatively well-placed in terms of infrastructure & regulation to introduce greater flexible working but unless companies’ working practices and policies adapt to encourage this, companies won’t realise the potential economic benefits.
Widely recognised by employers as a particularly productive sector of the workforce, working mothers often need just a little bit of flexibility to enable them to return to, and remain in to the workplace – it may not be even a much as the ability to work from home on a more permanent basis or on reduced hours, but flexibility and understanding when children are ill or for school appointments and yes, sports days and nativities are important. Small changes can often pay big dividends, and need not be costly or disruptive. While it can be a challenge to strike a fair balance between the benefits offered to employees with families and those without, there are clear all-round benefits of family-friendly working for workers and employers
Enabling work-family balance advances employee recruitment, improves worker productivity, and reduces absenteeism. When considering a position, workers evaluate the holistic package of compensation benefits, which may include paid leave and family-friendly flexibility. These policies attract workers and support businesses in recruitment to secure the best employees, improving firm productivity.
Not only do family-friendly policies improve the recruitment of skilled workers, but they also aid in retaining these employees.
We will be publishing our weekly Cityparents blog tomorrow from James who is a Cityfather who worked 4 days a week for a City Law firm. Some time ago he wrote about his experiences of his reduced hours working arrangement. Shortly after his "part-time" working arrangements began, he spoke with one of the partners to get some feedback on how things were going. He was told that if the conversation had taken place a few weeks previously it would have been a very different message, but that the arrangements now seemed to be working better as he was now managing to progress more on his day off! James did work on his day off and on his holidays but guess what? He left the company -the company that he trained with, and the company that he would have stayed with, had their family friendly policies been more accepted and practiced in the organisation. And in this week’s blog he talks about the impact of that decision financially and emotionally.
Parental leave is an example of good family friendly practice – beneficial for both parents and companies alike. Taking parental leave is good for the parents, the child and the employer, particularly if the leave is paid. Parental leave can help reduce discrimination towards women in the workplace if it becomes common practice for men to be taking it too; dads involved in childcare from early days are more likely to continue to stay actively involved in the child’s upbringing and benefit themselves, reporting better physical & mental health as a result. Employers benefit via better retention rates, more committed & productive employees and avoiding the expense of hiring replacements.
And what about our younger generation – while of course I want to progress my own career and I strive for a better work/life balance for me, my colleagues and network members, as a Mum to two young boys the next generation is a key consideration for me too.
The way we work is ever changing - having flexible employment regulations and policies is essential to boost job creation and help the younger generation get into/remain in productive employment (a huge issue in countries like France, Spain, Germany & Italy). People without much work experience find it hard to prove they are worth employing, which leads to a vicious cycle of rusty skills, low confidence and long-term unemployment.
This matters for employers too: According to the Manpower Talent Shortage survey 2015, companies everywhere report struggles with talent shortages, impacting ability to serve clients and levels of productivity & competitiveness. Companies need to adopt new people policies and different models of employment to overcome these shortages.
So what is it like in RBS for a working parent and what are we doing about our Family Friendly Policies?
Well at RBS it’s pretty busy – which is a good thing. As I mentioned I have two young boys and I work 4 days a week. I am pretty regimental about leaving the office to make it home to do bedtime with the children. Once they are asleep I generally log back on and catchup on my ‘day-job’ or the work for the networks. It is about give and take, and yes some days are longer than others. I have worked 4 days a week since I returned from my first maternity leave in 2010- and whenever possible or as needed, I work from home. I returned from my second maternity leave in 2012 and again returning on 4 days a week. In 2014 I was promoted to Director level. My return to work after my maternity leave was far from perfect in either instance and it was after returning from my second maternity leave that I founded the Families and Carers Network with a like minded colleague and the full support of our Executive committee and our Inclusion team. We were determined to promote the successful elements of our return to work experiences and try to right the, shall we say, less successful.
At RBS, we know that being an inclusive organisation is good for our people and for our business – We know that family friendly and flexible working provision, and support for women returning from maternity leave, are crucial to engaging and retaining employees and enabling inclusive leadership.
We absolutely still have a lot of work to do, but we also have plenty to be proud of in what we have achieved so far. Some of the initiatives that we are running – at an inclusion level:
- Comeback programme for women returners. Following a successful pilot run in 2015 where RBS a paid internship for women – aimed at helping them to get back into the workplace following career break. The pilot was a success and is being built into our business as usual approach in 2016.
- We asking every hiring manager to include the option of flexible working in role adverts where practicable and exploring the use of the strapline 'let's talk flexible working'.
- Through our RBS Choice program, we continue to identify new areas where we can encourage and promote flexible working, enhance property space and introduce new technology.
- Our leadership programme, Determined to Lead, also provides an opportunity for us to develop the leadership skills required to manage flexible workers effectively.
- Flexible working is now overtly articulated in our 2016 graduate recruitment campaign
Through our Families and Carers Network:
- Offer parents and carers support with getting the information, help and guidance they need to achieve the right work-life balance.
- We promote our policies in place today but also look to feed back on any gaps that our employees see. We regularly arrange feedback and update sessions between our member and our policy teams.
- Raise awareness and develop bank-wide understanding of the challenges facing parents and carers.
- We run a number of internal and external events throughout the year offering on topics relevant to parents and carers today.
Within my role as co Chair of our Families and Carers network, I met Louisa Symington-Mills at the launch of Citymothers and became involved shortly thereafter in this fantastic network.
Now under the umbrella of Cityparents, we are an inclusive network for City professionals who have a shared interest in balancing family life with a progressive career. I am very happy to say that Working Families is the charity partner for Cityparents.
Our members represent the law, banking/finance, management consultancy, human resources and accountancy. Our aim is to provide peer support to those balancing careers and families:
- We provide a schedule of informative networking events at family-friendly times in the City and Canary Wharf, covering topics relevant to working parents.
- We run a number of events including Speaker Series and Seminars supporting parents.
- We publish a weekly blog and offer a mentoring program as well as career coaching.
- We have our Cityparents Experience Bank where our members can share their leave experiences.
- We also run Cityparents Policy Works, a forum for HR professionals to share knowledge and discuss best practice on key HR policy areas with their peers at other
From the days of when my mother had to resign from her job once she was married to where we are today, without a doubt significant changes have happened. We know we are not there yet, but with organisations like Working Families, employee-led networks, Cityparents and the willingness to at least address the issues from many organisations, I do feel like we are on the right track.
And just to leave you with a short story - while out shopping with my 7 year old son recently, we arrived at Mothercare where he instantly commented “well that’s just silly – it should be Mother and Father care surely!” We don’t beat a drum about gender equality at home, but we hope we lead by example, and I hope by the time my children are in the workforce, flexible working will be the norm and fathers being equally involved and equally responsible for the care of their families and children will also be the accepted norm. Then we will know our hard work has truly paid off!
Category: Cityparents News
Released On 2nd Jul 2016