Do you value those in your team who have caring responsibilities for the older generation or for those with mental illness any less than those who have responsibility for children? Would you respond differently if one of your team asked for time off to take a parent to a hospital appointment compared to if they asked for time off to look after a sick child? You might feel outraged that I am even suggesting this, but it is something I came across in some survey data recently and this led to no. 6 on my #22WaysToBeConsciouslyInclusiveIn2022 list – extend the flexibility and approach that you take towards parents in the workplace to carers of all sorts.
One of the areas where, at least in some organisations, we have seen some evolution in policies and processes is around support for parents. I think this is partly due to changes in legislation (e.g. pregnancy and maternity being a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 in the UK) and partly due to an increase in working parents of all genders and from all family setups. It’s definitely true though that support for parents varies greatly across the globe – particularly in terms of statutory paid maternity, paternity or parental leave, and progress hasn’t been dramatic in all places.
What follows is a list of just some of the things I’ve seen people implement in organisations in the UK:
1. Review of language used and assumptions made about gender of parents in policies and guidance
2. Increased paid paternity leave – this is different from shared parental leave
3. Buddy systems to support people before and after parental leave
4. Provision of support for those undergoing IVF treatment or experiencing miscarriage
5. More variety in terms of flexible working arrangements (note this has been affected by the pandemic and working from home and the ramifications of the past 2 years probably haven’t played out fully yet in the workplace).
Focus on parents is great. But do you have a culture that accepts caring is not just about children? Do you know how much caring is going on, and what those carers are experiencing in the workplace? Do you allow flexibility for elder care or mental illness care in the same way you might for a school closure or sickness? Do you have a carers network or buddy system for peer support around the practicalities of being a carer and working? Also, lots of us have an assumption about who is doing the caring – do you talk about gender assumptions in this area? Different social groups have different expectations about this too. Could you publicise case studies (including at senior level) of a range of people and caring responsibilities to normalise the talk about caring?
I hope you can find one of these ideas that works for you.