Review of Mid Career Taskforce - Agile working, Parental leave and the Power of Networks,

Thursday 09 March 2017

Gender diversity, shared parental leave and agile working were all extremely relevant topics to be discussing in the week we celebrated International Women’s Day. The debate, which was hosted by Savills at their London HQ, challenged businesses to consider the changes they need to make to become more diverse, inclusive and ultimately, more successful.

Lisa Barnwell, Founder of Bumps and the Boardroom, helping to unlock the leadership potential of parents-to-be chaired a panel of experts including:

“Business needs to remember that diversity can be a competitive advantage” said Lisa, opening the discussion.  “We must have an inclusive conversation if we want to make change.”

So, how agile is your business? 

Liz believes that agile working is “About honesty and about change but there is a culture piece around change.  People mustn’t be afraid to manage it, because the expectations of the generation coming through have changed.  We must stop stigmatising parental leave as being a woman’s issue, or a mother’s issue. The sooner we talk more about agile working, the better for everyone.”

Carissa added, “Agile is about achieving what you want to achieve in the way you want to achieve it,” a point echoed by Mark who said that he has started to do this by making small changes, for example declining meetings at 8.30am, to allow him to drop his son at nursery. “I’ve had a really positive experience of flexible working but a big change is still needed and it is very important to get the men talking about it.” 

Laura’s introduction to flexible working was from a different perspective, when her father was very ill but it was through that traumatic experience that she realised things could be done differently.  However, once her daughter was born and the need for flexible working turned to childcare, it was a much harder situation to manage, mainly because of time constraints.  She also felt the need to keep fairly quiet about her hours and situation. “A culture change is needed.  We need to be more positive and more open.  The ability to work flexibly should be seen as a real selling point for the business, as sometimes it felt like to should be kept under the radar.”

While everyone understands the need for parental leave policies, Rosie felt they can be nonsense.  “We already all apply common sense to everyday activity through juggling life, so let’s apply some common sense to this.  This is all about trusting people – generally, if you trust people they’ll not let you down.  We need to make it ok for people to do what they want.”

It was agreed that, while shared parental leave is a good tool to have, it isn’t the answer and the discussion needs to be broader.  Young people see the three to four day working week as being very attractive, unrelated to parenting.

Sandi advised us that the way in which you approach your employer is critical, “If there’s trust there, you can be honest, so be bold, have the confidence to approach them.  Go in with a plan, delivering a proposal and a solution. Ask ‘Can I talk to you about how this will work…and can you help me with my colleagues’, because sometimes those working around you won’t necessarily share your enthusiasm.”

Laura Fuller endorsed this, explaining that the WiP Networking Mums initiative was set up to share experiences, help people understand the options, share stories and was open to parents across the various stages. “Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with mums whose children are now a lot older” women who have experienced the highs and lows of being a working parent.

Liz added that she has found Keep In Touch days to be very beneficial for some of her team, who are involved in specific projects, to help them still feel connected with the business. Encouraging women to think from a business perspective us very helpful, leading up to them going on maternity leave, while they’re away and how they are going to come back into the workplace.  She too mentioned honesty, “Be honest, if things aren’t working, talk about it.”

Noel agreed.  Savills is a member of Changing the Face of Property, which meets to share experiences, discuss what’s working and what’s not working within their various organisations.  “The networks are very helpful, then internally we work on finding the best solution for everyone – the staff, business and, ultimately shareholders.  We are developing best practice.”

Following the initial panel discussion, Lisa chaired an interesting Q&A session, where the following points were raised:

It is so much cheaper for a business to keep people than lose them and have to recruit new staff, why is the economic benefit of agile working so rarely discussed?

Role models in the business are critical.  Rosie explained that she is approached by younger women looking five years ahead, who want to find out how it can work, “You’ll keep someone if you take a personal interest in them.” 

There is still a perception that you can’t have both a career and a family – the mindset is still ‘either/or’. We need to help parents to be parents, without having to ‘flatline’ at certain points in their career. 

Carissa said “Let people be people, reduce the stigma or anger from others.  People have interests, not necessarily parental, young people want to optimise their time.

How do we sell the idea of agile working to the sceptics?  Some people are scared that their business is changing, it’s not the way it used to be.  Reassurance is needed at a senior level.  Client expectations also need to be met – many are enlightened and want you to reflect them, positively.

Liz said, “I think there’s a real mind shift in making things work.  This is about maintaining people in the workforce.  There’s pressure from a new generation who want things to be done differently now.”

Sandi explained that in a recent poll, the three issues which people would leave their jobs for are lack of work recognition, lack of work satisfaction and lack of work development.  If they feel valued in the type of work they are doing and have flexibility in how they do it, they are more likely to stay.

An audience member added that you can still impress, even if you’re working 20% less than before you can still be really effective.  It is important to recognise that you will have to make sacrifices at some point, you just need to acknowledge you can’t have it all.  Work out what will work for you and be honest, at work and with your partner.

The discussion concluded with Lisa highlighting the key words mentioned throughout – honesty and trust – and asking each panellist to identify one thing they would like to do to #BeBoldForChange.

Noel      “Take gender out of the equation – do something for working parents.”

Laura     “Be more proud of being a working mum and continue to develop Networking Mums”

Rosie     “Keep supporting the women in the business”

Mark      “Try to track down the men in my business who’ve taken parental leave and hear their stories”

Carissa   “Keep saying yes and find ways to make things work”

Liz          “Work from home, one day per week”

Sandi     “Make story-telling the focus, letting people feel they can do it”

Bumps and the Boardroom are launching The Parenting Project – an online platform to provide inspiration and motivational guidance to ensure female ambition and talent is nurtured. It will challenge current thinking and personal bias around career advancement, leadership and becoming a parent to see a corporate world that values EQ alongside IQ. Launching with 10 stories from current business leaders who are living proof that the pregnancy journey and transition to parenthood can be a positive catalyst for personal growth and career advancement the project already has the support of Barclays, Creative Equals, Fairy Godboss, Flock, Kensington Mums, Noi, Token Man and Women’s Business Council. WeAreTheCity are our media partner. We are still looking for the right lead sponsor and partners to take us to launch as well as inspirational stories from future leaders. If this could be you or your business, please get in touch at

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