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

17th September 2020

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

When we’ve all become accustomed to seeing someone’s bedroom whilst we’re in a work meeting or waving to colleague’s children as they join the conversation – where do you draw the line, when does business becomes personal?

Not a senior leader myself, I was lucky enough to be amongst Wales wide Senior Leaders earlier in the month to discuss the pressing issues facing businesses as we move from transitioning to home working to sustaining it, or even transitioning back.

As part of my role at Chwarae Teg I facilitate its bi annual Senior Leaders forum, this time focusing on the key concerns facing Women and the Work Place during the Covid-19 Pandemic. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of what Chwarae Teg has said on this – if you haven’t – you should. We’ve been at the forefront of the fight for women when looking at how we build back better. What was fantastic about this forum was seeing so many great leaders being right there with us.

For me, and I’m sure many others at the event, a striking question was;

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

At Chwarae Teg we have heard increasing stories of women being expected to carry the ‘burden’ of care despite being in employment, and sometimes the higher earner, themselves. Equally fathers are less likely to be offered furlough or flexible working as standard to support caring responsibilities. And with responsible organisations financially subsiding the loss in productivity, how to continue to be supportive whilst remaining a financially sustainable business is naturally a key question moving forward.

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? Are they sharing the load with someone at home? 90% of single parents in Wales are women, if your struggling employee is one of these sheroes, what can you do to support them?

Offer reduced working hours during this time? Offer Furlough? The great thing about both of these options is that they can be short-term fixes and don’t have to have a damaging lasting 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- this could be a compromise, ensuring long term employment remains but in the short term mitigating loss to smaller organisations.

Claire Jeffery, Co Director, HJR Tax explained that they, and some other organisations, have gone one step further and offered the additional 20% to ensure their employees are not losing out financially, when it’s no fault of their own.

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.

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. In discussion with further attendees at the forum Rachel suggests that if an employee were in a situation where they weren’t being supported at home, that it would be key to allow that individual 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.
General Dynamics have been ahead of the curve in dealing with the pandemic from the start. Watching the situation in Italy, where they have a sister site, they had sent 85% of their UK employees home to work weeks before lockdown was announced.

Rachel explained:

“Our focus now as we’ve moved through the pandemic has shifted away from people’s physical health and wellbeing, which all be it very important, to their mental health and wellbeing.”

Absolutely!

One thing that our fab Senior Leaders came to again and again- honesty. When you’re talking to your employees about their situation and when they are talking to you. No one can fix a problem they don’t know exists.

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

Because of these honesty policies organisations have been able to access flexible working patterns, furlough requests and reduced hour requests on a case by case basis and make fair decisions for the individual at hand.

But for those who maybe apprehensive of telling the whole truth, the risk of negative consequence could dissuade anyone unsure of the outcome. So having an independent helpline, forum or anonymised survey could be really helpful in gauging the mood of your workforce and highlighting any red flags.

These in turn could be addressed collectively, answering concerns in an open manner, perhaps weekly comms without picking out an individual. Feeling more confident about being speaking openly, that person may be more likely to come forward.

I’m sure by now we all know ‘we’re all in this together’ and other Covid-19 lingo bingo phrases, but I think as well as remembering that, on an individual level we need to ensure we look out for each other on an organisational level too. Chwarae Teg’s Senior Leaders Forum was a brilliant example of SME’s to large corporations, public, private and third sectors coming together to share knowledge, advice and guidance to ensure we’re not only ‘all IN this together’ but we can all get out of it together and, better still, collectively build back better.

One thing is for sure, if you’re having these conversations now or are starting conversations on your ‘new normal’ and plans to ‘return’ to work, be representative in your discussions! As echoed by Senior Leaders in Wales, as individuals we can’t presume we can talk for everyone, so let everyone talk. Inclusivity and intersectionality could lead to an incredible new work place.

We have a fantastic opportunity in our rebuild, one that has come at far too higher cost and therefore must not be ignored. We have the opportunity to be build back better as compassionate, empathetic and equal organisations. With the gender pay gap rising 1% in Wales last year, taking it to 14.4% let’s not let this pandemic worsen this figure further. Let’s take on board what forward thinking organisations, actively trying to improve and sustain their equality and diversity, are doing and make conscious decisions, together, that could change the face of working Wales for the better.

Chwarae Teg is always here to offer support and advice, and now more than ever we have many great businesses pre-empting potential problems or presenting positive ‘new normal’ ideas for the working worlds re structure – and we love it. If you’d like our support in addressing your flexible working policies, or you now know agile working could work for you – we’re here to help.

To find out email fairplayemployer@chwaraeteg.com