Public Affairs Ireland | Training and Development | Conferences

Family leave and workforce inclusion & engagement – an examination of workplace strategies, practicalities and emerging themes.

Claire Flannery 

Earlier this year, PAI ran a workshop to equip HR professionals, business leaders and line managers with the knowledge and skills to confidently implement inclusive work practices around maternity and family leave.

This workshop explored existing legislation and best practice, and looked at how employers can approach this career phase from a proactive and protective prospective.

There has been an increasing body of evidence on the importance of upskilling people managers in this area. Most noteworthy is the robust research from DCU’s Leadership and Talent Institute on barriers to Women’s Return to Work which found the line managers’ perspective was a key factor in enabling a positive return to work. A recent report commissioned by New Ireland Assurance  found that half of returnees were anxious about going back to work and just over 25 per cent had no support from employers prior to returning.

Recently the media has paid attention to inequalities concerning these issues including the lack of women in top level roles, pinpointing how this could have a negative impact on our society, as on our economy requires diversity to prosper. This has been reinforced through the recent launch of the Better Balance, Better Business Initiative. We’re also moving closer to legislation on Gender Pay Gap reporting and shared parental leave.

When we look at women in the workforce in Ireland, while our percentage rates are increasing (68%) we still lag behind many of our European counterparts (ESRI). On closer inspection where starting a family is concerned, there is a 20% reduction in workforce participation rates where women have children under 3 years of age (CSO). Research in the UK carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the gender pay gap widens consistently after the birth of a first child, with Irish research showing that the Gender Pay Gap trebles when people hit their 30’s and 40’s (CSO).

We can see that there is a significant shift around the time women are most likely to start a family and have young children, often corresponding with a mid-career phase. As Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue recently acknowledged, “women at all grades who take time out to have children are paying a penalty in terms of promotion, status and pay.” Addressing challenges with female leadership pipelines and gender pay gaps involves looking at how we can best support employees through the massive professional and personal transitions of parenthood, finding their feet as a working parent, and re-establishing and re-engaging in their career following extended leave.

If you’ve been thinking about how you can best prepare for the changing nature of work and provide an inclusive and supportive environment for working parents, you’ll be delighted to hear that we’ve confirmed an Autumn date for our next workshop for HR professionals, business leaders and people managers. This workshop forms part of our broader Maternity Series taking place on 3rd October.

Participants can expect to come away with a solid understanding of the legislative landscape, the business case for inclusion; and a robust plan of action for creating a supportive workplace culture, and increasing engagement of employees planning and returning from leave.

Claire Flannery is the Founder and Director of ‘Strength Within’ coaching and consultancy, where she focuses on helping people create the headspace and mental clarity to discover, cultivate and maximise their strength within. Claire is a qualified Business Psychologist and Executive, Business & Personal Coach with over a decade of experience working in HR leadership in Financial and Professional Services. She has worked with business leaders and individuals through significant organisational and personal change, including periods of organisational growth, restructure and downsizing. She is also a mum to two small boys and has personal experience of successfully managing her career while preparing to transition out of, and back into, the workforce.

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