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Senior Leaders talk….how to ‘build back better’ from the top

Jessica Hannagan-Jones, Client Relations Partner, Chwarae Teg
August 17, 2020

When we’ve all become accustom to seeing someone’s bedroom whilst we’re in a work meeting or waving to colleague’s children as they join the conversation - when does business become too personal?

Not a senior leader myself, I was lucky enough to be amongst Wales wide CEOs, managers and directors at Chwarae Teg’s Bi Annual ‘Senior Leaders Forum’- part of the Fairplay Employer programme. The focus was on key concerns facing Women and the Work Place during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

For me one of the striking questions was

“Is it my place as an employer to be asking the difficult questions and address someone’s home life dynamics?”

Chwarae Teg have heard increasing stories since the beginning of this pandemic of Women being expected to take on the majority of care despite being in employment themselves, or, equally fathers being less likely to be offered furlough or flexible working as standard.

If you, as a forward thinking HR specialist or as a company director have seen an employee struggle to work their contracted hours whilst trying to juggle the kids, the cat and the computer you’ve probably already offered flexible working patterns but, if that’s not working….

Is it OK to ask what their home situation is? 90% of single parents in Wales are women, if your struggling employee is one of these sheroes, what can you do to support them?

The great thing about Temporary Reduced working hours or Furlough is that they can be short-term fixes and don’t have to have a damaging affect when we look at women in the economy long term. With 28% of unemployed women stating ‘looking after family/home’ as the reason (compared to only 7.2% of men) we can’t afford to add to the dynamic- Theses options could ensure long term employment remains but also mitigating short term loss to smaller organisations.

Companies such as HJR Tax have gone one step further and offered the additional 20% furlough does not cover to ensure their employees are not losing out financially, when it’s no fault of their own. Claire Jeffery, co-director explains.

But what if these options aren’t feasible and what if you know there is another person at home,another parent - is it OK to say, “So, is your partner helping with the kids?”Or “Can you tell your partner that it’s 2020 and that whilst we love seeing your children in our meetings they should really be able to go and annoy them half of the time too.” Possibly not in those words.

Rachel Phillips at General Dynamics has a far more eloquent answer, suggesting that open and honest conversations with colleagues can allow for those tough topics to be faced. Rachel says it would be key to allow individuals in potentially difficult home life situations to come to that conclusion themselves and, as a fair and supportive employer it would be vital to ask the right questions as opposed to point the finger.

One thing that our fab Senior Leaders came to again and again- honesty. No one can fix a problem they don’t know exists.

However, I think it’s fair to assume that, just because we ask for honesty, doesn’t mean we’ll get it. Who can truly say they’ve always been honest to their boss?

‘Honesty policies’ have allowed for flexible working, reduced hours or furlough requests to be decided on a case by case basis and fairer decisions made for the individual at hand.

But for those who maybe apprehensive of telling the whole truth, having an independent helpline, forum or anonymised survey could be really helpful whilst also highlighting any red flags.

Anonymised comments could be addressed collectively, answering concerns in an open manner. Feeling more confident about speaking openly, that person may be more likely to come forward.

Chwarae Teg’s Senior Leaders Forum was a brilliant example of businesses of all sectors and sizes coming together to share knowledge, advice and guidance to ensure we’re not only “all in this together” but we can also ‘All get out of this together.’

We have a fantastic opportunity in our rebuild, one that has come at far too higher cost- We can build back better as compassionate, empathetic and equal organisations. With the gender pay gap in Wales at 14.4% now is the time to act. By taking on board what forward thinking organisations are doing and making conscious decisions, together, we could change the face of a working Wales for the better.

If you’d like our support in addressing your flexible working policies, agile working or any gender equality business queries, Chwarae Teg are here to help.

For Jess or ChwaraeTeg email Jessica.HannaganJones@chwaraeteg.com or fairplayemployer@chwaraeteg.com

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