What if workplaces were truly family friendly? This initiative is making it happen

What if workplaces were truly family friendly? This initiative is making it happen

Family Friendly Workplaces is launching today, with a number of employers already on board its mission to transform the future of work. We explore the new initiative, thanks to our partnership with Parents At Work.

We’re on the cusp of a massive shift in how employers recognise the caring responsibilities their staff have outside of work.

To help make it happen, a new Family Friendly Workplaces initiative created by Parents At Work in partnership with UNICEF Australia, is supporting workplaces in making the adjustments required – and enabling such workplaces to be rewarded with a more productive and engaged workforce in the process.

Family Friendly Workplaces (WWF), launched with the backing of employers big and small, shares guidelines on how to create a family friendly culture that is inclusive of all family types and caring responsibilities.

One trend you’ll see from the list of employers who have already signed on to support the framework is the high ratio of female-led businesses involved, highlighting the flow-on impact women in leadership positions can have on supporting family friendly workplaces.

Some of the female-led employers backing the initiative as supporting or founding partners include IBM, Macquarie, ING, Norton Rose Fulbright, oOH!media and Karitane.

In conversations with a number of women leading these businesses, Women’s Agenda has heard about their firsthand experiences juggling caring and other responsibilities with work and promotions into more senior positions, and how these experiences are inspiring them to support those behind them. 

Other employers also already involved in FFW include the Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte, Novaritis, QBE, Randstad RiseSmart, as well as KPMG, AGL, Microsoft, Medibank, HSBC, Comcast NBCUniversal, PEXA and KidsCo. 

The FFW initiative, which introduces National Work + Family Standards for Workplaces, not only comes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that literally brought the merging of family and office life home, but also following decades of working parents and carers struggling with the juggle.

Indeed, much of how we were working prior to COVID wasn’t actually supporting family life, with a survey of 6000 parents and carers in Australia in 2019 finding that 62% reported significant difficulties in managing their physical and mental health due to the competing pressures of work and family life.

FFW aims to address these issues, and to also leverage the huge transformative changes in flexible work that have emerged during the pandemic to create a future of work that’s inclusive.

“This is an opportunity to really define the way we think about how work and family comes together, and to consider what a more family friendly approach may actually deliver us as a community, an economy and individually,” Emma Walsh, the CEO of Parents At Work told Women’s Agenda on the launch of Family Friendly Workplaces this week.  

Emma Walsh is the CEO of Parents At Work

Katrina Troughton, the Managing Director of IBM which is a supporting partner of Family Friendly Workplaces, says the initiative elevates the need to consider the full spectrum of what makes a family-friendly workplace.

She notes that IBM has long had great workplace flexibility, but it’s in the conversations that are shared around such flexibility that enable staff to feel empowered to use these options in a way that accommodates their caring responsibilities. Having been promoted herself while pregnant and later again while on parental leave, Katrina knows firsthand how great communication and assumption-free opportunities can make the difference to working parents.

“You can have the hybrid workplace, the parental leave and the workplace flexibility, but the biggest thing for me is how you get a balance of all those pieces, versus being excellent at one thing but not so much good on everything else.”

And part of that balance means ensuring great policies and efforts on being family friendly are well communicated, and a part of daily conversations. 

The FFW guidelines aim to be inclusive to all employers, and acknowledge all family types and the varying caring responsibilities people have, especially the idea that your parenting ‘status’ is not the only factor determining the expectations and needs that others have of you outside of work.

Employers have the opportunity to be certified as “family friendly” under the guidelines, by achieving benchmarked standards, and gaining access to review processes and recognition of the role they are having in contributing to the family friendly shift. 

Nicole Breeze, the Director of Australia Programs and Child Rights at UNICEF Australia, says the FFW initiative is about wellbeing: family wellbeing, community wellbeing, as well as the productivity and benefits that can be achieved for workplaces and the economy.

But she also notes the priority of UNICEF, which is the wellbeing of children, and how workplaces can support caregivers in delivering for the key needs of children, particularly in their first five years of life.  

She says she sees plenty of employers that appreciate this responsibility and are willing to prioritise and leverage more family friendly workplace practices, but they don’t always know where to start or what good practice actually looks like.

The FFW standards are readily available to help, highlighting three core areas: the policies needed, the practices that can put them in place and the promotion needed to ensure such policies are used.

From there, FFW covers three core categories including parental leave, flexible workplace policies and practices, how employers are supporting wellbeing and, finally, family care, and how employers are supporting staff to manage their caring responsibilities.

“Wrapped around those core categories are two principles, including what kind of leadership culture you are fostering and how you are measuring the success of your initiatives,” says Emma. 

She adds that it’s not always about significantly upping your employee entitlements – such as by offering more paid parental leave or supporting staff with childcare-related costs.

Such spending won’t be possible for all employers. Rather, Emma highlights the need for employees to start contributing something – to consider the little things that can be done, and the cultural shifts they can support that won’t cost anything. “Our motto around this is that something is better than nothing.”

The benefits of a massive shift in family friendly work extend well beyond the opportunities it gives to those with caring responsibilities. As Nicole outlines, making this shift to getting all support mechanisms right for the sake of children can result in profoundly positive outcomes for those children impacted well into their adult life. It’s also an opportunity to access the benefits to the economy that come from making workplaces more accommodating of working parents – and seeing the women’s workforce participation rate increase as a result.

While there’s a strong ratio of female leaders leading this family friendly workplaces initiative, Emma stresses that this is not merely about the benefits to women, who have traditionally taken on the bulk of the caring and domestic duties at home and seen their opportunities for paid work fall behind those of men. 

She instead highlights the fact that everyone benefits from a massive shift in acknowledging that caring is an essential role, a form of work that needs to be fundamentally accounted for and supported.

“The ability for people to have equal opportunities to participate regardless of their parenting and caring status is huge,” she says.

You can go to Family Friendly Workplaces to see more information on this initiative. Women’s Agenda will also be sharing a number of key conversations with leadership within some of the founding supporters and partners of FFW, to share what they are doing within their organisations and how they make their own leadership ‘family friendly’.

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