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Time, resources and services: our key takeaways from UNICEF’s family-friendly conference

The following blog has been written by Andrea Wicks Bowles, Senior Consultant, Director of Global Initiatives, Bright Horizons


Are family-friendly policies an international aspiration for the future workforce experience? Earlier this month, UNICEF hosted a summit on Family-Friendly Policies: Redesigning the Workplace of the Future.  The event was an opportunity to bring together civil societies, NGOs, governmental entities, and the private sector to discuss family-friendly policies as an important element of employment.  The concept of “family-friendly” policies is not new to the private sector.  Progressive companies, many of whom we are delighted to partner with, have been using a family-friendly lens to consider their organisational practices for a number of years.  Using this lens, employers audit how work gets done, assess the relevance and impact of benefits offered, and seek to understand the expectations for the employee experience in order to ease the challenge of managing work and family responsibilities.

The purpose of the summit was to broaden these ideals to consider working families in all segments of society and identify strategies for how countries can develop structural supports that reflect family-friendly ideals.  To do this, UNICEF has a catchphrase “it’s about time, resources and services”, used to outline an internationally shared culture for how organisations can treat the workforce:

  • Time:  refers to parental leave, lactation breaks, and access to flexibility.
  • Resources: covers employment protections and non-discrimination for pregnancy or family responsibilities
  • Services:  includes child care, health and safety for infants and pregnant women, parenting support, and overall mental health and nutrition.  While these services might look different in each organization, access to these supports must be inherent in the move towards family friendly.

Recently released evidenced based research on the issues include Breastfeeding and Family-Friendly Polices; Paid Parental Leave and Family-Friendly Policies; and Childcare and Working Families: New Opportunity or Missing Link?  They were created to foster a mutual commitment of shared goals for decision makers and governmental entities and other stakeholders in the community.

On behalf of Bright Horizons I was proud to share our insights, collected during our 30+ years’ experience, on the business case for employers in taking meaningful steps to support our workforces – and the positive impact this can have for business objectives. Our friends at Johnson & Johnson presented their fantastic global parental leave policy that encourages men and women to use their leave time: in the US alone, 56% of Johnson & Johnson fathers are taking parental leave.  Our friends at Unilever also shared their campaign to encourage men to take their parental leave: across 190 countries, Unilever employees are given at least 3 weeks paid parental leave.

The Ethical Toy Programme of the International Council of Toy Industries shared its work with migrant-parent training.  This effort to equip parent factory workers to better manage long distance parenting is critical, particularly in China where 90% of the world’s toys are manufactured. It is not uncommon for people to leave their villages in order to work and these families may see their children a few times a year. Data from a survey identified that these working parents have higher levels of depression and lower overall commitment to the factory in part because of the stress of being away from their children.  The business case for supporting working families is clear.

It was certainly a day of sharing and discussion that acknowledges the universality of adults who work in formal and informal environments, and share the unique element of having a family.  The work experience and family supports available will be a cornerstone of the future workforce.  Together we all can play a role in ensuring that children and their parents can thrive.


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