If we cast our minds back in time, a generation or two ago the household looked very different to how it looks now.
The so-called ‘nuclear’ family had an average of 2.3 kids: mum stayed home, raised the family and looked after the household and dad was the breadwinner. There was no need for an organized childcare system as women stayed home to raise the children, or perhaps drew on family members who most likely lived nearby.
Society looks very different today, with families coming in all shapes and sizes, same-sex families, single-parent households, dual career households and so forth.
Across the 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an average of 71% of mothers are in work.
With dual income families now the norm, this requires a strong childcare system in place to enable both parents to work. However, the systems and structures around childcare haven’t necessarily evolved accordingly.
The reality of childcare provisions
Around the world childcare provisions vary. At one extreme sits the Nordics – widely regarded as the most child-friendly and gender equal part of the world. This region offers great state support for parents and family-friendly cultures.
In most European countries, childcare is heavily subsidized by the state. For example, in Germany families pay on average 1% of their family income on childcare.
Yet not all accompanying systems are supportive of working families. In France, children have a half day at school on a Wednesday, and in Switzerland there are no lunch provisions so children are expected to go home for lunch each day. Hardly conducive to holding down full-time employment for both parents.
A growing childcare crisis means the UK is now the most expensive country for childcare in the developed world, while at the same time facing a shortage of childcare places which has resulted in between 500,000 and 1.7 million mothers from being locked out of work due to lack of access to affordable childcare.
While in the US, largely seen as the least progressive for working families in the developed world, an ideological assumption that childcare is a matter for families, not the state, results in limited access to affordable, quality childcare.
Organizations are paying the price
There are clear implications for organizations. If parents don’t have adequate childcare support it is difficult for employers to retain their talent.
The UK’s childcare crisis is showing clear signs of creaking: the number of women not working to look after family has risen by 5% in the past eighteen months, the first sustained increase in at least 30 years.
This is happening at a time when, despite growing economic uncertainty, the UK and most of the developed world is experiencing a tight talent market with skills shortages.
In short, employers are seeking talent, and talented women are exiting the workforce due to childcare issues.
Employers pay the price with higher staff turnover, greater business disruption and an exacerbated gender pay gap as women miss out on leadership roles.
What can organizations do?
So, how can you become a preferred employer for talented parents? Key to attracting and retaining working parents is creating a family friendly workplace culture.
This means looking at everything from policies and procedures through to day-to-day culture and work practices.
Here are four top tips:
1. Provide true flexible working
The daily school run can be fraught for parents who have limited flexibility in their work hours and location.
A study by Working Families found that 82% of parents are likely to apply for jobs that advertise some form of flexibility, compared to only 31% who would apply for jobs that don’t.
Employers need to build a truly flexible offering including all forms of flexible working, such as remote working, flexibility in starting and finishing hours, compressed hours, four-day week, part-time work and so forth.
Additionally, make roles flexible by default, rather than requiring employees to apply for (and have approved) a flexible working request.
Obviously this can be more challenging for ‘deskless’ jobs, such as those found in healthcare, retail, hospitality, construction and so forth, though there are some good examples emerging of flexibility being applied in these settings.
2. Equalize parental leave
Take up of shared parental leave varies wildly around the world from 90% of dads in Norway to 4% of dads in the UK.
Whilst some of this has to do with gender stereotypes and societal pressures, but also about the poor pay men receive for this; it just isn’t financially viable for the man to take this time out if he is the primary breadwinner.
In countries where the state doesn’t offer suitable provisions – such as the UK and the US – organizations can help by equalizing parental pay for both caregivers, regardless of gender.
By allowing both parents to take extended, paid parental leave, this eases the financial pressure on parents and helps keep them engaged and retained.
3. Prioritize work-life balance and culture in your employee value proposition
In the workplace most people look to what their leaders practice to understand the unwritten rules of what behavior is acceptable.
If your leaders are ‘leaving loudly’ – announcing that they are leaving at a reasonable hour of the day to collect children from school – or consciously not emailing out of hours, for example, then that sets the tone for what others can do too.
Consciously monitor and address the timing of meetings, activities and job requirements that encroach on family or personal time.
Hold your leaders accountable to lead by example by building it into their rewards.
4. Ask parents what they want
Above all, consult with parents in your business as to what they want and respond accordingly.
Survey them, run focus groups, and really listen – parents in your business will most likely give you the answers to how best to support them.
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