Speaking on a panel on how companies can better support workers through pregnancy loss – organised by baby charity Tommy’s – Drew Gibson, head of inclusion, belonging and wellbeing at Santander UK, warned that ideas of a ‘normal’ pregnancy were holding back progress on supporting employees returning to work after experiencing loss.
Delegates were told that one in four pregnancies end in loss in the UK, but there are currently no specific legislative standards in place to support those going through the experience.
Speaking on the panel at Tommy’s ‘Policy to practise: supporting employees through all pregnancy journeys’ event, Gibson said: “When it comes to organisational policy, or government policy or legislation, it's still just the starting point, and it's focused on what a typical pregnancy or parenting journey looks like. If there's one thing to take away, it's that it doesn't exist.”
Firms must “bust the myth” of what they perceive to be a “typical pregnancy” and instead focus on the “different journeys” employees go through and how they can best be supported, he said.
While the Miscarriage Leave Bill – a private member’s bill introduced by Scottish National Party member Angela Crawley – is currently going through parliament, it would only entitle anyone who has suffered a miscarriage to three days of paid bereavement leave.
The bill, which was originally due to have its second reading in December 2022, will now be discussed in parliament in November this year.
But the panellists said the bill does not go far enough to support workers.
Gibson continued: “If you don't act now you're going to be told to in a couple of years a great deal of these things anyway. There's a huge difference for your employer’s brand in attracting people and retaining people into your organisation and sending a strong message to say we're not waiting to be told, we're going to go out and do this because it's the right thing to do.”
Also speaking on the panel, business consultant Paul Rowlinson said businesses must go beyond legislative requirements to offer meaningful support to employees and attract and retain talent. “Three days; sorry, it's nothing. Not when you're dealing with that sort of personal tragedy – that's no time at all,” he said.
“The legislation is what you're required to do, but that doesn't mean to say that's what you have to do. Smart businesses understand that attracting and retaining great talent is very difficult and can be very expensive, particularly the attraction.” He added that “smart businesses” will also go above and beyond legislative requirements and “do more”.
Krystal Wilkinson, associate professor in human resource management at Manchester Metropolitan University, said focusing on perceived ideas around a “typical pregnancy” also ignores the needs of people from minority groups, including LGBTQ+ couples that might have less traditional paths to pregnancy.
Wilkinson said awareness raising was key and told firms to engage with community staff network groups about their needs. “Consult with staff wellbeing groups and ask the LGBTQ+ network [and disability network] ‘what does this mean for you and are there any gaps?’”
She noted that “even in our research of NHS trusts in a diverse workforce, the people who responded were predominantly white women, including in the managers survey. So why are other groups feeling like this is not something they can take part in?”
Catering to diverse groups does not require managers to be experts on the needs of every community, Wilkinson stressed, but is about having the resources in place – whether that be on an internal company website or knowing of specialist charities – so managers are “armed” to “know where to signpost people”.
This speaks to wider societal and workplace issues, Alicia Burnett, midwife and founder of Black Baby Loss Awareness Week, told the panel. “I think generally as a society we need to be more aware of intersectionality and inequity,” she said, adding that businesses could act on this by being aware of additional challenges and risks minority groups might face in this sector and “be willing to offer” extra support if needed.
For more information, read the CIPD's guide on supporting employees through pregnancy loss