The last twelve months have been difficult for so many of us in so many different ways. We have found ourselves in and out of lockdowns, isolated from loved ones and all with a heightened sense of anxiety and an overhanging sense of threat from the pandemic. Working parents have been thrust into the role of teacher, coping with 24/7 childcare and boundary-less work: their very identity has changed as the various roles played working parents merge. There is precious little time, if any, ‘me' time as a working parent at the moment. The prolonged period of time that these demands have been made on working parents has undoubtedly taken its toll – but it has also brought to the forefront an issue that so many employers and managers have been paying lip service to for all too long.
When a working parent worries that they will be viewed negatively for blocking off time for child care on their work calendar or missing a call, they feel a pinch between two very different roles: “the ideal worker” and “the good parent.” Whilst we have (mostly) managed to move away from the once deeply held cultural beliefs that you couldn't possibly successfully achieve both of these roles, it does not stop the pang of guilt felt by working parents when their child runs into an important Zoom call demanding more toilet roll. What can be difficult for an employer to understand if they haven't faced it is that a young child does not keep to a plan: they won't necessarily eat within a designated window allowing you time to schedule a call; they won't necessarily stay focussed upon a task so to allow you some headspace to draft an email. Those with older children face different challenges: teenagers facing huge uncertainties regarding exams which may or may not take place, while dealing with online bullying, eating disorders or isolation, may reach out to their parents in crisis – a parent cannot ‘pause' such a conversation because they have a well-intentioned team coffee meeting to attend on zoom.
We are asking more of our working parents than ever before. It is unsurprising that so many people are struggling to balance being a full time carer, educator and employee. A recent survey of 50,000 women in the UK has revealed that 90% have felt their anxiety and stress increase during the latest lockdown and 48% fear that childcare responsibilities will lead to negative treatment at work. Whilst we love our darling little cherubs, we are dealing with full time childcare, full time work and a full time pandemic – it's a lot to take on! Working parents want to be able to do their job, and have risen to the challenge to maintain productivity, but as the survey has shown, it is coming at a cost. What will be interesting is how we shall see the courts defining the extent of an employer's duty of care to an employee who is juggling their domestic responsibilities as well as their professional ones.
The stigma around working flexibly has not been confined to those who care for children – so often, employees have not felt able to make use of flexible working arrangements for fear of being deemed to be less committed or passed up for promotion. The pandemic, as tough as it has been and continues to be, has made home lives and motherhood more noticeable. It has allowed our colleagues and clients into our homes through virtual calls and meetings. This has advanced the thinking around flexible working and proven that it can and does work for so many.
The bottom line is that if working parents are asked to choose between their career and their children, there is only one way that decision is going to go. As a result, many organisations have lost out to diversity in senior positions due to the competing demands made on working mothers and parents and an unconscious bias shown towards them. In recent years, employers have taken so many steps towards addressing a lack of diversity, in recognition of the opportunities and financial advantages that come to companies that have women in senior management roles. Devastatingly, the pandemic threatens to undo so much of this work.
So, what can employers do to help working parents? How can employers demonstrate fairness to all employees who are facing such different challenges?
Of the many suggestions, from offering furlough, temporary reduction of working hours, temporarily setting aside targets, setting up buddy schemes, one of the most called for option is flexibility.
At the end of the first lockdown in Jersey, Appleby hosted a colleague consultation; our objective was to understand what we could learn from this enforced period of working from home and how our colleagues felt we had “performed” as an employer during this period. The response was staggering; we achieved a 100% response rate. Our colleagues were very clear that they wanted our office to embrace and implement flexible working; in the truest sense of the word. So we did. The majority of colleagues can now work remotely for three days each week, spending a minimum of two days in the office. We have extended our core hours, adapted the timings of internal meetings and events to accommodate flexible working patterns and implemented a virtual internal communications strategy, wellbeing and social programme to support all of our colleagues in their flexible working requirements.
We appreciate this is the start of a very long journey to creating a truly flexible working culture but we are committed to becoming a more diverse employer. Last year, as an IOD member, Appleby signed up to be part of the first Diversity Charter in Jersey to publicly state our objectives to being an inclusive employer and business. This year, we will formalise this commitment.
Appleby's Female Leaders Network aims to engage and develop a group of female leaders, who have the power to support the development of women in their workplace. The purpose of the network is to bring together a group of senior female leaders from the local business community and provide a platform for discussion and networking. We believe this demonstrates Appleby's commitment to promoting diversity in the workplace and local community and we are committed to ensuring that diversity remains on the agenda for our business. Our Female Leaders Network has been incredibly active for the last two years with Female Leaders from global banks and many local trust and corporate service providers as members. We have recently committed to the Institute of Director's diversity charter in Jersey and are working with a local bank to host allies training for all of our colleagues and to learn from them in terms of how we become a truly diverse organisation.
We have also recently engaged our colleagues in a fundraising initiative to support the Red Box Project to support their objective in ending period poverty in Jersey. We have plans to develop two further community partnerships to raise funds and volunteer the skills of our colleagues for two projects in Jersey who support vulnerable women and children in Jersey.
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