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How can the creative industries better harness the talents of working parents and support real lives?

Katie Evardson’s a project manager and a mum. A few weeks ago, she wrote on LinkedIn about her experience getting back into work after maternity leave:

The post went viral. Shared across multiple social networks, it’s been seen by almost 200,000 people on LinkedIn alone.

It’s a topic that resonated with a large number of people who shared their experiences getting back into work. Their stories involve:

  • taking a (30%) pay cut;
  • working weekends;
  • changing industries;
  • setting up their own businesses;
  • taking on volunteer/entry level roles;
  • spending anywhere between a few months to several years looking for a job.

None of these things are easy, cost effective, or conventional in the search for work. And while it’s encouraging to see a number of people in the same boat, what’s abnormal is the onus of responsibility on the job seeker.

Back to the future

In reality, industries need to do a lot more to accommodate returners. Whether that’s coming back from parental leave, caring for a relative, or taking time for a career break.

Industry leaders and commentators often describe a talent shortage, or worse, a talent crisis. It’s clear that a new model for talent is in order. Different, more diverse pools of employees need to be considered and accommodated. My own agency, Hidden, for example, approaches recruitment differently by working strategically with hiring managers and people teams, inside organisations. We find ourselves uniquely placed to not only get behind Katie’s story, but also to do something about it.

We recently hosted an informal get-together of 30 passionate people from across the creative industries at Hidden HQ. Katie Evardson joined Hidden founders Ross Taylor and Richard Bloom, as well as Tim Hole, founder of Breathe Labs: a training consultancy focusing on Human Intelligence Systems.

Tim led a creative problem-solving workshop to address the question:

“How can we get the abundant skills of professionals, who are now balancing parenthood, back into the creative industries?”

“The needs of working parents might represent the next evolution in human resource potential, distributing skills in new ways, but businesses will have to understand each person’s challenges as well as their strengths and adjust to fit”.

Debate was lively with several common themes emerging:

  • The way businesses charge for their services is outdated;
  • Un-empathetic environments cause employee disengagement and burnout;
  • Family or not, work-life balance should be looked at as a human right.

From here, six key ideas came to the fore:

  • A new culture of job sharing;
  • Realistic ‘rules of engagement’ for returners;
  • Ending ‘presenteeism’ and individualising needs;
  • Changing language arounds task types and rewards;
  • New incentives to reflect employee capability;
  • Short-term targets agreed on an ongoing basis.

The goal here is balance - for everyone, not just parents. It’s as much about optimising performance as it is wellbeing.

Making small changes like allowing staff to switch-off by not having them contactable 24/7 or avoiding stand-up meetings first thing on a Monday could go a long way towards making jobs more accommodating.

Changing the way companies reward flexible staff, incentivising returners based on goals they achieve as opposed to simply the hours they clock, none of this has to involve anything desperately radical. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be particularly new.

Job sharing was also discussed as a mutually beneficial solution to getting returners back into work. Just as parents parent - when dad’s at work, mum’s in charge; when mum is, it’s dad’s turn - employers operating a similar principle to covering roles could give opportunities to two returners for the price of one job. Sure, this is not straight forward, but everyone in the room felt that we need to eradicate ingrained bias if we are to achieve new results.

The employer strikes back

Easy enough to say in theory, but a different matter in practice. And so, as the very beginning of a much larger conversation, the get-together was a great success. The next step is welcoming employers to the table.

The timing couldn’t be better as there are some big names making positive strides in this area. Sky’s Returner Programme launched in the beginning of September and is “designed to support talented professionals, both men and women, who have taken an extended career break, back into senior roles”.

Multinational professional services firm Ernst Young run EY Reconnect: a 12 week programme for career returners “providing a bridge for professionals re-entering the workplace after an extended career break”.

Throughout the get-together, ‘presenteeism’ was frequently touted as a major obstacle. Such archaic beliefs that people need to be tied to a desk are not only preventing flexibility, but stifling creativity.

Entrepreneur and mental health campaigner Dr. Pragya Agarwal outlines How You Can Encourage More Women Into Your Workforce, making that point that families and childcare aren’t exclusively women’s issues, but society’s.

And in the comments of Katie’s original post, Sherona Navarro, an experienced branded content and partnerships specialist, is firm about not giving up: “if we give up and leave the workforce then nothing changes and if not for myself, I want change for my daughter”.

We’re proud to have been there at the start of this critical conversation in the creative industries. And anything we can do to keep the momentum going, we’re going to. There’s lots to be done.

Keep an ear to the ground for the next Hidden event and if you’d like to join in and make your voice heard, just say hello.

Ross Taylor is co-founder at Hidden

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