Catherine Muirden, Director of HR, Barclays Retail explains the extensive maternity policies in place at Barclays.

Becoming a parent is a life-changing event, at whatever stage in our working lives that it takes place. From preparing ourselves for the new baby, to the challenges to our time, energy and resources which raising a child creates, employers’ support during this journey is critical to working parents to strike the perfect work-life balance.

At Barclays, our HR policies receive full leadership support from the very top of the organisation. Recognised for our efforts in supporting employees through different stages of their lives, we were one of the three banks that won the Top 10 Employers for Working with Families Awards in 2013. However, current research carried out by the TUC mentioned that the UK was among the worst in Europe in terms of maternity pay, with mothers receiving just six weeks of parental leave at 90% of their salary (Trades Union Congress, 18 November 2013 by Elly Gibson), suggesting that the management of parental leave in the UK is both inconsistent, and an ongoing endeavor. Barclays policies and benefits support new parents to make choices about those precious early months; currently 90% of our colleagues who apply for maternity, paternity or adoption leave take up the opportunity to have up to 12months away from work.

The Government has recently concluded a consultation on the administration of Shared Parental Leave (source: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, CIPD). The Children and Families Bill, due to come into effect in September 2014 will enable working parents to share parental leave – which can be up to 52 weeks – after the initial two weeks of maternity leave. This shared-leave approach is one which Barclays has long supported; in 2002, we introduced an HR policy that made paid paternity or maternity leave available to both parents – couples who work for us can still swap maternity leave, allowing one of them to return to work early while the partner assumes any remaining leave, giving new parents the flexibility and opportunity to pursue their careers equally. Take-up of this shared option is one which we’d like to see gaining popularity and the planned legislative change should continue to promote this concept. However, HR professionals will always need to support these transitions for employees through effectively executed policies and schemes, and by creating an inclusive culture for those policies to operate within.

Of course, experiences during the expectant stage of parenthood vary from one person to another. From regular check-ups to more specific medical attention during pregnancy, and time-off for adoption or surrogacy, Barclays’ policies enable our line managers to provide a responsive approach in dealing with the different circumstances of the expectant parent.

In the UK retail bank, we pioneered a new support scheme called the Maternity Coaching, where the colleague taking maternity leave receives ten hours of coaching with a professional coach arranged through Barclays. (While we refer to mothers here, this support is available to same-sex parents or guardians in line with our inclusion commitment.) This coaching is provided to mothers during and after their pregnancies. Maternity Coaching is still in its pilot phase but we have received tremendous feedback from colleagues who have undergone these sessions, and it is something that we look to roll out to the entire organisation in the near future. Coaching for new dads is also available, as is coaching for the line managers of those taking maternity leave as part of our commitment to retaining talented colleagues at this important life stage.

Other support programmes available at Barclays are the ‘buddy scheme’, where someone who has experienced maternity leave can be paired up informally with a new mother to offer practical support during the leave. Keep-in-touch days and mentoring schemes focused on return-to-work discussions have also been useful to help new mums to re-integrate into their new roles after maternity leave. We also have Working Families and Carers Networks to connect those with similar interests and experiences for much-valued support and collaboration.

Returning to work for many parents can be a daunting shift and can lead to feelings of insecurity and lack of confidence. Many companies, including Barclays are increasingly aware of the negative consequences of not supporting returning mothers and employers are continuing to look for ways to mitigate this. By proactively managing the pre-maternity and maternity phases, employers can get a head start in ensuring the return-to-work transition is seamless. Our keep–in-touch days and coaching greatly reduce the pressure of coming back to into roles post-leave, but as stated above, we know these initiatives have to be supplemented by supportive line management.

Flexible working options are also available for parents to help balance child care with their careers. Job share and working from home are readily available alternatives for Barclays’ employees.

Barclays has consistently been ranked in the The Times “Top 50 Employers For Women,” and we continue to develop new initiatives that will enable parents and guardians to nurture both their careers and families successfully.

With our current policies, we have been able to retain key staff, with 80% of women taking maternity breaks returning to full or part-time work. But there is still room for improvement, for instance, increasing the awareness of Barclays’ support schemes in order for all policies to be executed consistently across the organisation.

At the end of the day, HR policies can provide a framework for enabling work-life integration, but true empathy for the working parent is a key quality sought in great managers. They are the ones who make the difference, and who retain strong talent throughout all of the life changing stages of parenthood.

Catherine Muirden, Director of HR, Barclays Retail

On 11th March, Symposium Events will be holding a conference where the economic and social impacts of employer’s support in parental leave will be explored in greater detail.