15 September 2016 | By David Isaac Community

Working forward

The Equality and Human Rights Commission calls on more businesses to better support pregnant women and new mums

Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published research developed with the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) revealing that 77 per cent of new mothers reported they had at least one negative or possibly discriminatory experience at work. Conversely, 84 per cent of employers recognised that it was in their interests to support pregnant employees and those on maternity leave.

To bridge this gap, the Commission has developed “Working Forward” in collaboration with high profile businesses, including Barclays, Royal Mail and BT Group, and leading industry bodies. This initiative aims to drive change by focusing on four key areas: leadership, ensuring confident employees, training and supporting line managers, and flexible working practices.

The reason to act

In the current economic climate it is more important than ever for businesses to retain and capitalise on the skills and talents of all their employees regardless of gender. It has been proven time and again that companies with the most diverse workforces gain a competitive edge and, according to research from McKinsey, are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their industry average.

Women make up half of the UK workforce but research shows that more than two million women who are not working want to work, and over one and a half million women in work would like to work longer hours. Statistics suggest that if women's participation in the labour market increased to roughly the same as men’s, by 2030 10 per cent would be added to the size of the economy.

Leading by example

Our founding members are already seeing positive results. BT Group’s companywide commitment to supporting pregnant women and new mums has seen its return rate of women after maternity leave increase to 86 per cent – 11 per cent higher than the national average.

Royal Mail is also trying out new ways to ensure all women, including new mothers, have the opportunity to build their careers. This includes a regular survey of staff who has taken maternity leave in the last five years and the establishment of a new Parents and Carers Steering group.

Transport for London has set up its own Women’s Staff Network Group which includes a buddy scheme. Anyone can contact a buddy who will have experience of pregnancy at work, different types of parental leave, or just experience of life as a working parent. It’s open to everyone, whether they’re pregnant, have a partner who is pregnant, a working parent or someone who is just thinking of parenting.

The Commission wants more employers to join us on this journey so that together we can develop forward-thinking policies, programmes and initiatives to drive long-term cultural change. Members also gain access to a network of like-minded chief executives, HR Directors and line managers, and exclusive content, including expert blogs, video case studies and online training.

“Working Forward” is all about enabling organisations to share ideas and best practice to implement solutions that really work. Together participants will inspire businesses of all sizes and from all sectors to join the campaign. By this means we will ensure that female talent is properly nurtured and valued. Together we are working to create a new standard. Please join us to make this happen.

For more information on how to pledge your support and sign up as a member of “Working Forward” please visit equalityhumanrights.com/workingforward.

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