Tackling the 'baby issue' remains one of the most universally avoided conversations by managers and business leaders today. Yet with women representing close to half the work force, it's a conversation we need to have. Too often, incorrect assumptions on both ends of the dialogue (or lack thereof) derail the careers of women and result in the loss of talent for companies and the economy more broadly.
In many cases, the fear of saying the 'wrong' thing causes both managers and women to avoid having an open dialogue about managing maternity leave and parental responsibilities. Not having this conversation makes it impossible to develop a framework that works for the individual and the business and leaves the retention of talented employees to chance or dumb luck.
In today's knowledge-based economy attracting, developing and retaining talent is a critical success factor for businesses. Successful managers will be the ones that tackle family responsibilities and create environments which allow us to be successful at work and at home.
Here are 10 tips for business leaders as they embark on the challenge:
1. Don't let the baby discussion be the elephant in the room. Not having a discussion around how a maternity leave will impact a business leaves both sides to jump to assumptions which are likely incorrect and lead to misguided decisions.
2. Risk saying the 'wrong' thing. Tackle issues of concern openly so that you can find a solution that works for the employer and employee. Tough topics like how clients will be managed in an employee's absence and upon their return need to take place to establish expectations and build confidence in the ongoing professional relationship.
3. There isn't a one size fits all solution. Each family's situation is unique and employees may need different types of support or flexibility at various points in their career. Create an environment where employees are encouraged to ask for arrangements which allow them to do their job successfully and manage family obligations.
4. Think long term. Careers are long and the most challenging period of balancing children and careers is relatively short. Make an investment in your employees and help them navigate through that stage and you are likely to develop a very valuable and loyal employee.
5. Strongly communicate that having a family does not diminish career prospects. Role models say a thousand words. Having females on your senior management team is critical to creating confidence that there are opportunities for advancement.
6. Walk the talk. Make sure everybody on your management team values the corporate culture you are creating and the importance of having both men and women on the team at all seniority levels of the organization.
7. Integrate women into organizational networks. The demands of career and family often cause women to neglect networking internally and externally. Ensure that your organization is finding ways to integrate women back into the organization on informal and formal levels. Establishing a vested interest in your organization requires feeling connected to the team and its success and having the acknowledgement that your input is valued.
8. Mentors and sponsors are critical to careers. Create informal and formal mentorship and sponsorship programs to provide career support and tie women into leadership networks. Sponsorship from senior management is a critical element to everyone's career. Encourage your leadership team to sponsor both men and women in your organization.
9. Recognize men's parental obligations. Send a clear message that your organization supports men's parental obligations. Two career families mean men need to have the support to care for their children just as women do. Sending the message that your organization supports fathers as well as mothers is far more powerful than a women only policy.
10. 'Having it all' should be the norm, not the exception. Both men and women should expect to have the ability to pursue successful careers and raise happy and healthy families. We shouldn't need a superhero suit to achieve this, just the support of our employers and society.
Jennifer Reynolds is the president and CEO of Women in Capital Markets and has been an active advocate and supporter of the advancement of women in the industry throughout her career.