Why trust is the key to allow working parents to contribute their best

Are special measures needed for women in the workplace?

Some time ago, I attended an event at my old college celebrating the 40th anniversary of the admission of women. One of the activities was a panel discussion about whether women still need special measures in the workplace. Among the speakers were Dame Julie Mellor (Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman), and Sarah Jackson OBE (Chief Executive of Working Families).

There wasn’t much consensus on what special measures might be needed, but everyone agreed on the difficulty of combining a career – or two careers – with family life.

Some of the most eminent (and senior) women had found professional success only because their partners had ‘sacrificed’ their own careers; others had chosen not to have children; others were suffering from the high cost of the childcare they needed in order to work in the way they wanted.

We agreed that what is needed is a new definition of work, where success is measured not just in terms of profit, and commitment is measured not just in terms of hours spent at the desk. Many workplaces have a long way to go in creating practices and cultures that allow parents to contribute their best.

What it means to be a family-friendly employer

At cxpartners, we try hard to be family-friendly. We let people take paid time out for family emergencies, we work hard to support women returning after maternity leave, we’re committed to our staff having a great work/ life balance (we give everyone a yearly hobby fund to spend on something which has nothing to do with work), and we’re always delighted to see children in the office (most of our blackboards are decorated with kids’ drawings).

We use tools like Slack, Dropbox, Google Docs, and Trello to allow people to work when and how it’s convenient for them. We don’t stint on our investment in the hardware and software which allow people to work flexibly and remotely.

Why trust is the key

More than this though, we strive to treat our staff with integrity and honesty, and we believe, strongly, that trust is the basis of great relationships at work. We trust people to do the work they need to. We trust people to get things done when they’ve said they will. We trust people to meet their deadlines on projects and with clients.

What this means in practice is that when our staff say they need to work flexibly, we trust that they are doing it for the right reasons. If they need to leave early to collect their kids, or be at home because their toddler is ill, then we trust that they will catch up when they can. We don’t interrogate their decision or gossip about it in the kitchen. And we know that trust is returned in all sort of tangible and intangible ways that benefit our business (for example, in our reputation in the market place).

So, while family friendly practices and policies are hugely important, a culture of trust seems to me to be at the heart of enabling women – and men – to combine their career with a successful family life.

As joint Operations Director, Tamlyn heads up the operations team, providing strategic business and management support to cxpartners. Outside of work, she's a long-term member of Bristol Cabot Choir.