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What working parents really want

For parents to successfully combine working life with family commitments, flexibility is key. Here three working mothers share the brilliant ways their company supports its employees.

From left to right: we spoke to working parents Rachel De Fusto, Cat Harris and Lisa Wisniowski. (Supplied)
From left to right: we spoke to working parents Rachel De Fusto, Cat Harris and Lisa Wisniowski. (Supplied)

Balancing a career with raising children is one of the biggest life challenges for modern parents, whether it’s having to perform after being up all night with a sick child, or struggling to get to the office on time from the school run.

According to figures by the ONS, 75% of mothers and 95% of fathers are working in the UK, so juggling is the norm for most parents. Fortunately, conditions for working parents are improving and there are companies, such as Yahoo and IPG Mediabrands, out there blazing a trail with their progressive policies on everything from flexible working to enhanced parental leave.

Employees in family-friendly work environments perform almost 20% better in their roles, according to research from the IESE Business School (University of Navarra), proving that companies with this forward-thinking approach benefit just as much as the people who work for them.

We spoke to three working mothers about family-friendly culture in their workplace.

‘Unlimited paid leave is amazing when navigating school holidays or needing time off when your child is poorly'

Cat Harris says being able to work from home part of the week helps her juggle family life. (Supplied)
Cat Harris says being able to work from home part of the week helps her juggle family life. (Supplied)

Cat Harris is Head of Talent Development at IPG Mediabrands and has a seven-year-old son. Living in Brighton and with their office in London, she benefits hugely from the company’s hybrid working culture.

"Working from home is important, not only for school pick-ups, but to be at the Christmas play or sports day or nearby if you get a call from school to say your child is ill. We’re mindful that it might not be as easy for those who are client-facing but, as long as you’re meeting your obligations, there is flexible working for everyone," she says. "We request that employees do 50:50 home-to-office work to foster collaboration, creativity and to build a strong culture for our talent."

IPG Mediabrands also offers flexi leave, which means no cap on holiday leave – it gives the team autonomy to take leave at times that work for them, if they need a ‘duvet day’ to recharge, for example.

This helps hugely with work-life balance and allows rest breaks through the year to help employees thrive in their roles.

"This is amazing when navigating school holidays or needing to take time off because your child is poorly," says Cat.

The company also has six employee resource groups on everything from neurodiversity and disability to wellbeing, where they continually review policy – the women’s group recently did a return-to-work survey looking at how they can improve support for parents.

Connecting with other parents

On top of this, Cat and her colleague Lisa have set up a community for parents, which meets on Teams. "We welcome anybody at any stage of their parenting journey, even if they haven't yet got a bump. It differs from the ERGs (employee resource groups) because it’s informal. We also run events in the summer holidays, kids’ Christmas parties and Easter egg hunts," Cat explains.

"We want full transparency – we want parents to know it is possible to have a career and children and that they don’t have to hide their kids away."

IPG Mediabrands nurtures employees through every stage of parenting. “We appreciate that it's not an easy journey for everybody. We have a fertility policy that allows time off for IVF treatment and recovery,” says Cat.

“We listen to every single request for time off or flexible working, no matter the situation – you've got people with grown-up children that may need to offer them support in different ways. We're trying to make sure that, no matter where people are on their parenting journey, they’ve got enough support.”


‘As soon as I had my children, I was able to negotiate flexible working’

Lisa Wisniowski says flexible hours allow her to fit her work around family life. (Supplied)
Lisa Wisniowski says flexible hours allow her to fit her work around family life. (Supplied)

Lisa Wisniowski is Communications Director for IPG Mediabrands. She has an 11-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son and feels incredibly grateful to her company for its family-friendly approach.

“We naturally work harder because we feel valued as people,” she says. “As soon as I had my children, I was able to negotiate flexible working. We have always had an open dialogue with managers and HR and they find a workaround for everybody.

“A lot of us work late, but we are fine with that. Today, I've no childcare, so I’ll collect my daughter from school, which means I’ll go back to my work a bit later. A lot of us talk to each other late at night on Teams and get quite a lot done! This works for me but I would never expect others to do the same.”

The hybrid working and flexi leave policies help enormously with staff retention. “The flexibility is a huge attraction to employees, as you can well imagine,” says Lisa. “We noticed that people tend to save leave for school holidays because childcare costs are so exorbitant, but we place a lot of emphasis on employee wellbeing and, if you’re shattered, you can take a paid day off for downtime, you're not saving it all up for the summer.”

Enhanced parental leave

IPG Mediabrands also offers enhanced parental leave packages of six months full pay for the birth or adoptive parent, and shared parental leave (companies are only required to pay 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings for six weeks, followed by £172.48 for the next 33 weeks).

“We also offer partner leave for two months on full pay. Research has shown that a third of fathers don't take any parental leave because they can't afford it, so being able to give people two months' full pay is massive,” explains Lisa.

The company has also introduced a premature baby leave policy. ”If you have a baby born before week 37, it allows people to use the first few weeks of leave to visit their baby in hospital, without limiting the amount of time they have when their baby is well enough to go home. It’s been very important to lots of the team.”

A family-friendly approach

Lisa says that the senior team leads by example. “When you see your boss going off for a day because of their children, it makes it more tangible for you to do the same. We call them employers, but they are actual people and a lot of them have children and are also trying to navigate this world of working parenting,” she says. “We are a media agency. A lot of our target audience are working parents, so we’re responsible for reflecting the society that we're speaking to.”


‘I feel very loyal to the company because of the support they've shown me as a working parent’

Mum-of-two Rachel De Fusto was promoted straight after her return from maternity leave. (Supplied)
Mum-of-two Rachel De Fusto was promoted straight after her return from maternity leave. (Supplied)

Rachel De Fusto is sales director for Yahoo Consumer and mother of two boys, aged six and four. She is a return-to-work mentor for those coming back to the company after parental leave. Rachel also organises ‘bring your children to work’ days and leads Yahoo’s parent and carer’s ERG (employee resource group).

“We offer support from people who understand and empathise with what you're going through as a parent, anything from advice on how to navigate a conversation with your boss to childcare in the summer holidays,” she explains.

“It’s the emotional drain that working parents find the hardest. You don't know what morning that person has had before they get on that call at 9am. They could have had crying children on drop-offs, their kids could have been poorly and they’ve been up all night, but they’ve still got to bring their A game in the morning. So it is that understanding from colleagues that you do also have a life, you are also a parent.”

Yahoo has progressive benefits too, such as shared parental leave and 52 weeks of maternity and adoption leave, irrespective of length of service, as well as an enhanced paternity package of eight weeks. “That is amazing and provides precious bonding time and the chance to support your partner – when I had my kids, my husband only had two weeks off.”

Hybrid working

The company adopts a hybrid working model. “That shift has been phenomenal for working parents to be able to be there to drop off their children at school. And there has never been any judgement if you need to look after a sick kid," explains Rachel.

“There is an ethos around trust. It doesn't matter that I've got to pop out and collect my kids, because people know that I will do my job. We've got a lot of working parents in the senior leadership team and seeing them say, ‘I can't do that meeting because I've got parents' evening or I'm dialling into this meeting because my child is off school sick’ means they lead by example.”

Celebrating parenthood

Many new parents feel marginalised on their return to the workplace but, at Yahoo, Rachel was given new opportunities. “I was interviewed for a promotion the week I came back after maternity leave and, despite being out for a year, was celebrated for what I can bring to the business now through the lens of a working parent,” she says.

“It speaks volumes that I've been here nine years, for career reasons, but also because of the flexibility and understanding I get as a working parent. I feel very loyal to the company because of the support they've shown me.”


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