Last week our Broadgate Social community came together for the second webinar in our Parenthood series. ‘Parents in Legal & Finance: Modernising Family-Friendly Policy, hosted by Cassidy Bishop and Helena Sullivan.
This event featured three inspirational leaders in Legal and Finance, exploring their career and parental journeys, highlighting the importance of creating inclusive DEI strategies to empower parents, caregivers, and families, as well as how individuals can act as allies and advocate for an inclusive workforce.
During the discussion, we were joined by:
Helena Sullivan, Marketing Director at Trinnovo Group
Cassidy Bishop, Legal Search Specialist at Broadgate
Mary Proctor, Senior Finance Professional
Julien Haye, Global Head of Non-Financial Risk at Fidelity International
Michelle O'Hara, Managing Director at Thursfields Legal Limited
We explored the challenges of balancing demanding careers and family life, as well as how we can support parents returning to work after family leave. Our panel shared their varying experiences from having older children to children during the pandemic and how businesses have accelerated their family-friendly policies to retain top talent.
Changing attitudes toward parenthood and careers
Our panel highlighted the changing experiences for those with older children vs younger children and recently becoming parents. As a mother of 4 boys, with the youngest being 16, she experienced varying support through her pregnancies, and in taking career breaks to prioritise her family Mary noted that her income would suffer.
For Michelle, she highlighted that having a child so early in her career was a very different experience from the enhanced parental policies we are seeing today. She took 13 weeks of maternity leave at the time, however, she noted that her workplace approached her situation progressively, enabling her to work part-time and a day from home in order to balance parenthood.
Move towards equal partnerships
As a new parent, Julien expressed his experience of being relatively lucky in that becoming a parent after the implications of the pandemic accelerated change in how we work. Julien was able to work from home and take 8 months off through the time spent on the surrogacy process and his husband was able to do the same. This highlighted this drive towards more equal partnerships not simply for those who go down the route of surrogacy or adoption but for all parents and carers being afforded the same benefits to cater to their individual situations.
During the discussion, Julien highlighted that men in straight relationships are generally disadvantaged by law, and while companies can do more, there is nothing in place by law. Realistically, most families cannot afford to take shared parental leave and so for many, there isn’t that choice, and so women are often automatically disadvantaged there.
He expressed that it is beneficial to businesses for parents to have equal opportunities when it comes to parental leave, as it accounts for the realities of parents not always wanting the same things. Not all mothers want full maternity leave, not all fathers want to work through their partners maternity leave.
Our panel delved into their own experiences of in a sense, shielding their parental lives from their work lives. Mary explained how she would at times send her children to the library to try to fully fulfil her role without letting on that she has children.
Michelle added to this, highlighting her own experience of seeing the barrier between home and work breaking down through the lockdown. While we have seen positives through flexibility and work/life balance, the pandemics implications have also added more demands and responsibilities for parents working from home. She expressed that we are seeing more of the whole person that comes to work and that parenthood and caring responsibilities generally are more normalised and more included in workplace culture.
In her experience, she referred to a point from her HR director who speaks of organisations needing to focus on “fitting out” rather than people “fitting in” and explained that organisations and their structures and policies are often constructed around a dominant norm, but in order to actually be inclusive and make the change we need to look wider than that, which is what many workplaces are starting to do when it comes to DEI strategy. Since individuals can only speak from their own experiences, it is important for leaders like herself to make it her personal responsibility to listen, learn and make change.
How businesses can do more to support families
Cassidy expressed that as a father with an older child, the pandemic highlighted the continued need for that parental support for older children and that parental benefits shouldn’t end with your child reaching a certain age. Mary added to this, referring to her previous role having brought about new policies and work practices to support people and using their imagination to create the most inclusive and effective policies.
Helena added to this, looking at how change has been driven by the pandemic but that businesses are still developing inclusive policies. Having taken 2 maternity leaves in the last few years, the second being during the pandemic and going into a new company post-maternity leave, she found it very daunting to get back into the workplace. Helena expressed the importance of having strong support networks in place for returning parents to ensure they can reintegrate.
Following this point, Michelle expressed that when she was coming back from maternity leave she was quite early in her career and so it was a daunting experience. Knowing this, when she now has a colleague coming back from parental leave, she will make the effort to reach out to them to offer support. Reintegration is about good communication; companies can often get stuck into following rigidly rules and regulations but everyone is an individual and experiences things differently and so it is important to look at how you can approach things in a way that has the best impact.
Strategies and policies to ensure more inclusivity in the workplace
Julien brought up the concept of ‘compassionate leave’, creating a more inclusive term for all parties for all reasons, whether that be parental leave for adoptions, surrogates, parents and so on. He expressed that HR teams need to expect people to draft their own policies because policies won’t always be transferable and relatable for all. The whole process of creating inclusive policies can in turn target specific groups and so excludes people, so it is about ensuring you are catering for the most extreme circumstances.
Cassidy echoed Julien’s point, expressing that particularly in the Legal and Finance space, organisations that are testing the extremes are those that are leading the way in DEI. Mary added to this, highlighting the need for a strong imagination to come up with the most inclusive and diverse strategies and policies in order to cater for the evolving landscape of work. In her own experience, policies have been challenged all the time and so it is imperative to deal with various scenarios and consider who else could be in that situation etc.
Part of our role as thought leaders is collecting information from events, panel discussions like these and networking opportunities in order to pull the findings into new policies and strategies for change.