When I think about what kind of office perks would encourage me back into an corporate environment, free childcare — even on a short-term basis — would absolutely be at the top of the list.
Even better would be offering that care onsite, or at least very close by.
Internationally, we’re yet to see many examples of this, although some firms do offer subsidised childcare options. We also hear of ad hoc arrangements at different companies, and workplace cultures that simply accept that kids come with the job — with colleagues happy to entertain babies, toddlers and kids during school holidays, when they’re sick, or simply when they’re too little to be elsewhere.
Fortescue Metals has just taken a more official step in that direction, offering short-term childcare via its newly launched ‘Fortescue Family Room‘ to its Perth-based office of 700 employees.
While the care is not offered on a permanent basis, it’s designed to complement other caring arrangements which, as many of us very well know, can go wrong. People get sick. Grandparents may need some well-deserved time out. A stay-at-home parent needs a break, or possibly a week or so out to take on a consulting or freelance gig.
Fortescue has made some progress on workplace gender diversity in recent years, from a low point of only appointing its first woman to the board in 2013 (the last ASX 50 company to do so).
Fortescue’s board is now more than 60% female — that’s significant for an ASX-listed company, and even more significant considering it’s in the mining and resources sector (which typically lags on female representation).
However, it clearly still needs to increase its female workforce participations rate: currently at just 17.3% of the total workforce. Initiatives like this no doubt help, and are likely to offer a compelling return on investment.
Fortescue says the Family Room is the latest piece of its Diversity Plan, aiming to help employees balance family and work responsibilities. CEO Nev Power specifically noted the “untapped potential” in stay-at-home mothers and part-time working women.
Fortescue is also exploring further childcare options, such as night-time facilities for those working out-of-hours shifts.
When Georgie Dent recently sat down with Fortescue founder Andrew Forrest for Women’s Agenda, he told her diversity is an extremely strong and important factor in merit. “If you have no women on your board and you are looking at a new director with approximately equal skills, for the sake of your shareholders choose diversity.”
Choosing diversity means finding initiatives and programs that can create more inclusive work environments. This is a smart move.