Supporting parents should be for life, not just parental leave

Covid has had a huge impact on working mums and dads, says Lucinda Quigley, so now is the time to reassess how businesses help them

The destructive force of the pandemic has meant businesses and individuals alike have had to reassess their situations, and much changed overnight. For working parents, this meant having to acclimatise to working from home, while also adopting the role of teacher while schools were shut – essentially giving them two full-time jobs.

With schools now being open again, businesses may now believe that working parents are back to one job but, in reality, there are still conversations that must be had when it comes to better supporting working mums and dads.

A new world has brought new pressures

The lack of available childcare during the pandemic has taken a ‘mental toll’ on working parents, with many mothers and fathers being pressured to return to the office. Fears about the future of childcare is justified, given that, pre-Covid, only a third of local areas had enough holiday childcare for full-time working parents, with high and increased prices, and that already limited system is now under threat following pandemic pressures.

Experts have warned of a ‘pandemic motherhood penalty’, an umbrella term devised to summarise the variety of issues that contribute to mothers’ inequality in the workplace. This ‘penalty’ has been around for a while, but Covid could intensify the troubling trend – especially as only half of businesses published their 2018-19 gender pay gap report this year, a move that could reportedly push gender equality back a whole generation.

Tackling the always-on culture

Before these conversations can take place, one point needs to be made clear to companies – that remote working is not the same as flexible working. Working parents being at home all day does not give them any more flexibility when it comes to balancing jobs and home; in fact, it blurs the lines. Not to mention the substantial rise of the ‘always on’ culture that is currently plaguing the remote workforce.

Ongoing remote working options is a start, given that recent surveys show that only one in 20 working parents want to return to the office, while 55 per cent would choose to spend no more than three days there. But this offer alone is not enough. Employee support should go beyond company policies. Working parent coaching can and should play an instrumental role in helping retain mums and dads.

Parental support must be a long-term endeavour

It’s easy to think that coaching and other forms of support is solely for parents beginning or returning from maternity/paternity leave. In reality, there are important moments through all stages of parenting. And, at some point, supporting parents also involves supporting their children.

In all stages and scenarios of becoming a parent, high-quality, expert parental coaching, for both mums and dads, is a key enabler of talent progression. It also helps achieve a more equal gender balance at senior levels. Coaching enables parents at all stages to discover the best ways to combine their professional responsibilities with their personal commitments.

Now is the time for bold and honest conversations, and businesses must be ready to listen and enable real change. Although there are many aspects for working parents to consider, lockdown has encouraged many people to reassess their careers, futures and the way they want to work moving forwards. Any organisations not proposing the right support and company culture could find their high-talent individuals more inclined to join forward-thinking firms – which will be catastrophic for long-term company success.

Lucinda Quigley is head of working parents at Talking Talent