Monthly Archives: September 2014

Video: How best to manage parental leave in the workplace

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Head of flexibility and diversity from Allens Dr Jacqui Abbott provides strategies to better manage parental leave transitions in the workplace, and discusses what makes up a successful parental leave program.

She also looks at the keys steps organisations need to follow to achieve success with its parental leave program.

Abbott will be talking on the topic at the 2014 AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference, held 30 October in Melbourne. Registrations close Friday 24 October.

Click on the image above to watch the 3:44 minute video.

Source: HRM Online 

First published: 15th September 2014

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New study reveals the advantages of maternity coaching for women and employers

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Could maternity coaching modernise Australian workplaces and reduce those shocking 1 in 2 discrimination statistics?

A recent study into the impact of maternity coaching revealed five key elements that positively impact on professional women and their maternity leave/return to work experience. 

The interview-based research was lead by University of Wollongong student Jennifer North with a two-fold purpose. The first, to get a woman’s perspective on the benefits of maternity coaching; the second, to provide recommendations that employers can use to improve the ‘transformative experience’ and retention rates of women throughout their maternity leave and return to work transition.

To complete the study North interviewed experienced, professional women from various private sector organisations in order to represent various return-to-work experiences.

The results (expanded below) clearly highlighted why maternity coaching could modernise business culture in Australia. It showed that when women feel supported during one of the most challenging transitional periods of their career they feel valued, are more likely to stay with their employer and are more productive on their return.

If there was any doubt that this transitional period is challenging (and whether women really need extra support during the maternity leave transition) we need only turn to this year’s Australian Human Rights Commission nation-wide inquiry, titled Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review. It found that 1 in 2 Australian women experience discrimination during their pregnancy and/or return to work with “84% of mothers reporting significant negative impacts related to mental health, physical health, career and job opportunities, financial stability and their families”[1].  These sobering statistics support the growing evidence that maternity coaching is, for at least the women in this study, a crucial element to ensuring women avoid being victimised by tapping in to the support on offer – be that in the workplace, at home or a woman’s own reserves.

Maternity Coaching: why professional women want it

As the pace of business and life generally speeds up it makes juggling, negotiating and balancing a whole lot trickier. It’s no surprise that more professional women than ever are seeking out external support and letting go of the “I can do it all/just get on with it” mentality. Or worse – opting out altogether.

Maternity coaching is a good first port of call for such support as it establishes some perspective and sets up clear plans for managing steps to achieve short to long-term career goals. It also helps to address any practical or emotional issues related to the maternity/return to work transitional period such as common forms of discrimination like a reduction in salary, missing out on training, professional development and promotional opportunities.

The 5 key elements of maternity coaching that the women in North’s study felt were most beneficial:

  1. Coachee-led but solution-focused. Maternity coaching adapted to a woman’s personal situation (i.e. requirement for flexible work requests) rather than following a prescribed one-size-fits-all programme.
  2. Support from the coach and feeling valued by their organisation. This encouraged loyalty by reinforcing the commitment of women to remain with their employer.
  3. Increased confidence and focus impacts productivity. Loss of confidence or uncertainty about returning to work is a common experience for women. A coach helps to restore confidence by working with women to develop solutions and a return-to-work action plan that eases the transition period and enables them to be more productive on their return.
  4. Independent third party support and confidentiality. A key theme noted in the study was that an independent third party, with no agenda, conducted the coaching.  As a result they felt able to express any concerns in a safe and confidential environment.
  5. Communication and timing of the coaching. Communicating the option to engage with a maternity coach and the timing of initiating contact is particularly important to each woman.  Initially, some women did not think it was relevant for them, or the offer arrived after maternity leave had commenced and they had insufficient time to focus on it.  Some women feel it would have been helpful to have the coaching while they were on maternity leave.

Why is Maternity Coaching crucial for women, businesses and the Australian economy?

The study points out that many women “do not return, or resign shortly after maternity leave due to transition issues, a trend which has financial and career implications for women and productivity and cost implications for organisations.”

When women leave the workforce for good the repercussions later in life can be extremely damaging particularly in the event of divorce, death of a spouse or old age when women are vulnerable to poverty.

But why are they leaving and how can a maternity coach turn things around?

Let’s look at the stats again. In Australia 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men experience pregnancy/return to work discrimination in the workplace.  What’s more, the 2012 ABS Pregnancy and Employment Transitions report found that ‘1 in 5 women permanently left their job during pregnancy’.[2]

“Research and modelling shows that if businesses and other employers are able to retain women and men who are becoming new parents by eradicating pregnancy/ return to work discrimination, there will be a considerable economic dividend to both them and the wider economy.” Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick.[3]

In the Maternity Coaching study women who had the support of a coach and felt valued by their organisation were more committed and loyal to their employer. Higher retention rates means lower recruitment costs and organisations get to hold on to some of the most productive, talented workers available.

Maternity coaching also helps women realise their true value, which is particularly useful when negotiating pay, work arrangements (i.e. greater flexibility), employment conditions, career and development opportunities and entering into contracts. When women realise the value of their contribution to the workforce they stay in it.

“It has been estimated that an increase in female workforce participation by 6% would increase Australia’s annual GDP by around $25 Billion dollars.” The Grattan Institute 2012 via WGEA website [4]

How do organisations help mums return to work?

“This study demonstrated that the first step of ensuring women return to work after maternity leave was achieved with maternity coaching having a positive impact on many of the return-to-work transition issues.”

For family friendly employers who want to continue to develop their female employees and improve their gender equality ratios introducing maternity coaching programs are of high value. Here are three suggestions for leading practice offered by the study:

  1. Coaching: offer coaching prior to commencement of maternity leave so that women are able to set the agenda for confidential discussions.  Ideally, three coaching sessions should be offered – one session before maternity leave, one immediately prior to their return to work, and one three to six months after their return. Issues can then be addressed in a timely manner and women are more likely to feel supported throughout this transformative period.
  2. Manager training: line manager support in maternity leave transitions and flexible working requests is critical therefore training will enable managers to better handle these issues.
  3. Timely, open and honest communication: ongoing communication before, during and after maternity leave provides the organisation with an opportunity to facilitate discussions around expectations of both the employer and employee to ensure a balanced exchange of views.

“The benefits of communicating with an independent third party allowed them to express concerns in a safe and confidential environment and return to work with increased levels of confidence, focus and commitment to the organisation.”

Other themes of the Maternity Coaching study

A number of themes in North’s maternity coaching study may also be of significant interest for employers. In particular, women:

  • Referenced “flexible working arrangements, the financial and career sacrifices of working part-time, the impact on confidence levels, and changes to priorities, professional identity and psychological contracts” as important areas to address.
  • Viewed flexible working negotiations as a two-way process.
  • Thought manager or supervisor support is important in return-to-work transitions.
  • Generally perceived some dissonance between an organisation’s family-friendly policies and actual practices.
  • Decide to return to work following childbirth for non-financially motivated reasons as they value their education, careers and professional identity.
“While employers face many challenges in relation to pregnancy and return to work, the vast majority want to do the right thing by their staff.” Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick [5]  

Further resources for employers and employees

Maternity Coaching study: North Jen – Summary of Research paper on Maternity coaching.

Parents@Work Career Coaching. Personalised, one-to-one sessions with a qualified career coach as well as toolkits, group learning forums and other information resources to holistically support employees throughout their journey as a working parent.

Flexible working arrangements – arrangements for dealing with pregnancy, potential pregnancy, parental leave and breastfeeding. This assists employers to analyse and action a comprehensive work-life program and policy for pregnant and potentially pregnant employees. It has leading practice examples, case studies and a great checklist to identify potential issues.

Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review. The complete review and recommendations for how organisations could reduce pregnancy and return to work discrimination.

Know your own value: online pay and contract negotiation checklist for women. This Security4Women resource equips your female employees with the tools and checklists they may need to empower them to engage with managers about their employment arrangements before they question leaving.

[1] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, The price of parenthood: discrimination at work, viewed 12.9.14,

[2] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Pregnant, and overlooked for promotion – women deserve better, viewed 12.9.14

[3] Australian Human Rights Commission, Pregnancy report reveals personal and financial cost of discrimination, viewed 8.9.14

[4] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Pregnant, and overlooked for promotion – women deserve better, viewed 12.9.14

[5] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Employer feedback needed on pregnancy at work, viewed 12.9.14,

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Work/life balance benefits among best for retention

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Benefits that support employees’ work/life balance are among the three types most closely linked to higher retention rates, according to Mercer research.

Mercer’s 2014 Australian Benefits Review involved more than 350 employers with effective or very effective benefits programs, and correlated results with their turnover, salary increases and perceived morale.

Equality across the workforce

The first theme to emerge from the study is that organisations with higher retention and revenue growth apply their benefits more equally across the workforce than others.

These organisations have “less differentiation of benefits for seniority and less restrictions between levels,” according to Mercer associate Dylan Ward.

He says that breaking down hierarchies in benefits schemes “encourages empowerment and responsibility more broadly across the organisation”.

Examples of the ways that organisations do this include:

    • vehicle provision – senior executives and technical/professional staff are more likely to have a car allowance, and the difference in benefits between the two levels of employee is less pronounced;
    • work/life balance – working from home is an option for more employees, not just those in management roles;
    • retirement – these companies are more likely to pay super above the statutory rate (averaging 12%), and less likely to limit extra contributions to senior managers only; and
    • insurance – access to death/TPD, salary continuance and private health insurance is provided not just to full-time employees but also part-timers, casuals, visa holders and employees over 65.

Work/life balance

The organisations with very effective benefits and higher retention are also more likely to support employees’ work/life balance, the research revealed, and they do this in two key ways.

First, employees have more flexibility and choice around their benefits. This might mean being able to choose between a car allowance and a physical car, for example, or the ability to purchase extra leave, access time off in lieu, or select their own retirement investment options.

Secondly, the benefits are more likely to support employees’ personal wellbeing and lifestyle. Employers are, for example, more likely to provide access to additional parental leave, offer more company-paid social events and health and wellness benefits (such as flu shots and health checks), and subsidise health and travel insurance.

Links to desired outcomes

Commenting on the research, leader of Mercer’s talent business, Garry Adams, told HR Daily that quite often organisations structure their benefits according to what others in the market are doing, but “but for real business impact, employers need to establish meaningful links between innovative benefits and the desired behaviour of their workers”.

The organisations with very effective benefits do this in a number of creative ways, Ward adds.

Organisations wishing to reduce liabilities on their balance sheet, for example, might reward employees with extra leave if they use their annual entitlement.

Other initiatives include aggressive sales commission plans for organisations keen to link pay to performance, or share purchase plans where employees can buy into the success of the organisation.

Competitive benefits drive employee satisfaction

Mercer categorises employee benefits in four ways (see image above), and focuses its research on competitive and basic benefits, Ward explains.

Basic benefits are “generally expected” in organisations, and are more likely to cause dissatisfaction due to their absence, than satisfaction from having them, Ward says.

Competitive benefits, on the other hand, usually go above and beyond those offered by most organisations, and are a big area of opportunity for employers because they drive employee satisfaction and retention.

The research found that at organisations with very effective benefits, turnover averaged 12 per cent (compared to 15% in the broader market).

At these organisations employees also generally worked more hours (43% of senior managers work more than 50 hours a week, compared to 25% across the market as a whole), which Adams says indicates that “when employers give more they get more”.

First published: 4th September 2014

Source: HR Daily 

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‘Returnships’: A great idea for fixing the ‘leaky pipeline’ of talented women

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Working with women who are looking to return to the workforce after an extended absence to raise children, I commonly hear how they feel “daunted”, have “lost their confidence” and often “don’t know where to start”. After a two year break to raise her twins, one HR Manager told me, “I’m just not sure if my skills are up to scratch and applicable to today’s competitive job market.”

In her recent article advocating quotas to achieve 40% female board representation, Marino Go rightly pointed out that initiatives would need to be put in place to enable and support potential fe-male leaders to return to their place in the leadership pipeline. While flexibility is fundamental to this discussion, so too is opportunity itself.

It is well documented that women at the middle or senior management level often step away from the workforce for a time for childcare reasons. Although many of them intend to return to work, af-ter some years they find it difficult to secure equally senior positions and commonly suffer dimin-ished confidence as as result.

In a climate of high unemployment, employers have no appetite for risk. A senior recruiter shared with me that mothers who have been out of the workforce for an extended period are commonly perceived as ‘risky’, with outdated skills and industry knowledge. “They really need to tap into their networks,” she said. ” That’s probably the only way they are going to get back in.”

Even after years in recruitment myself, I still find this reality a surprising one. Not only do these women bring maturity, experience and stability back into the workforce, but to varying degrees ASX 200 companies are actively pursuing gender diversity initiatives to increase the representation of women in senior leadership roles. The very women these companies need, are the same wom-en who can’t get back in.

Carol Fishman Cohen, author of the widely disseminated Harvard Business Review article, The 40-Year Old Intern, has studied the emergence of internship-like programs across employment sectors in the US. They originated with the Goldman Sachs “Returnship” program, which evolved out of research that employers were not tapping into the experienced talent pool of women who had left the workforce for a few years, and were looking to get back in.

These programs are typically paid short-term employment contracts based on the skills, interests and prior experience of the returner. Best practice is for the employer to mirror their internship pro-gram with training and mentoring provided during the program. Cohen has observed that such short-term, non-binding return-to-work programs can be a valuable way to reduce the perceived risk of hiring women who have had an extended absence from the workforce.

In Australia, a landmark study that uncovered rampant discrimination against women and mothers returning to work prompted Commonwealth Bank CEO Ian Narev to comment on the leadership role of the Bank in supporting women in the workplace. “We know we must do better,” he said.

I’d like to propose that ‘better’ might look like a revised version of the “Returnship” concept, where ASX 200 companies provide a much needed ramp for their own female managers to re-enter the workforce after an extended absence. Instead of attracting 1000 applications from the market for 10 positions as the Sara Lee program did, what if women were guaranteed this opportunity with their employer from two years after exiting and before ten years?

The potential benefits for women include the opportunity to:
  1. Rebuild professional confidence
  2. Update and acquire relevant skills
  3. Receive training, mentoring and access to corporate networks
  4. Assess the reality of a return to the workforce and its impact on family life
  5. Potentially secure employment
Meanwhile the potential benefits for business include:
  1. Focused attention of experienced talent on business-critical issues
  2. Reassurance of capability to hit the ground running
  3. Loyalty as a result of the opportunity
  4. Access to a huge and largely untapped talent pool
  5. Replenishment of the female leadership pipeline

Returnship initiatives offer a potential win-win solution for business and women. At the highest level, they can contribute towards addressing the challenge of gender diversity in corporate Australia, something deemed by many as critical for sustainable success in a global environment.

Do you have a great idea to help support and promote women at work, and business at the same time?

By: Eliza Kennedy

First published: 20th August 2014

Source: Women’s Agenda

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