On The Horizon – May 2023

Jennifer Liston-Smith’s monthly review reflects on key themes, news and public policy updates in the world of combining work and family for organisations, parents and carers.

Author: Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership, Bright Horizons

1. Employers can help parents concerned about their children’s education and care

Bright Horizons has started publishing ‘sector cut’ reports from our Modern Families Index (MFI). One pressing finding is that parents in Banking & Financial Services and in Legal, Consulting & Professional Services hold higher concerns about their children and young people’s educational catchup and mental health than the overall UK population of parents and carers. Educational catch-up concerns were up by 8 to 9 percentage points above the (already worrying) UK norm of 48%. On mental health, these sectors’ concerns are 6 to 7 percentage points higher than the high UK norm of 50%.

A recent sector-specific Peer Council meeting of banking and financial / professional services employers hosted on Canary Wharf by Executive Director Denise Priest and Head of Client Relations Victoria Cottee confirmed talent retention as a leading concern, followed by employee wellbeing, diversity equity & inclusion and talent attraction along with animated interest in the employer’s role in childcare.

This combination of parents’ worries and employers’ focus on talent comes at a time when ‘about one third of the £594m earmarked for tutoring to help children catch up after Covid lockdowns has gone unspent’ according to a BBC investigation regarding the government's National Tutoring Programme. The reason appears to be that ‘schools must top up any government money from their own budgets, something some teachers say they cannot afford’. It is not surprising, then, that leading employers have stepped into this space by providing access to virtual tutoring as part of their employees’ back-up care provision.

As to the employer’s involvement in childcare, this was thoroughly explored in our recent HRreview webinar: Post-Budget Childcare: What is the Employer's Role? I was joined by Amanda Weekes, Procurement and Contract Manager, University of Surrey; Sarah Ronan, Early Education and Childcare Coalition Lead, UK Women’s Budget Group; and Victoria Cottee, Head of Client Relations, Bright Horizons in a panel chaired by James Marsh, L&D Manager, The Guardian and former Editor of HRreview. Many employers are asking how to get ahead of demand for the new funded places coming in, in phases, between April 2024 and September 2025. The audience 100% satisfaction rating hopefully justifies the listen!

Ensuring that employees have access to affordable, accessible, quality care is not only about labour market participation. In a recent "Act for Early Years” report from global children's charity Theirworld, the foreword by Chair, Sarah Brown (wife of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown) says ‘For a child, the first five to six years are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That is when 90% of brain development occurs and patterns of learning and behaviour are set for the future.'

The report reminds us that in 2019 UNICEF developed a set of family-friendly policies that every government and business can put in place to redesign the workplaces of the future, with four core principles:

  • Paid parental leave to care for young children
  • Support for breastfeeding
  • Affordable, accessible and quality childcare
  • Child benefits

2. ChatGPT grasps the trends for employers of working parents, as calls for regulation of AI mount

Geoffrey Hinton, known as one of the 'godfathers of AI' has left Google and joined other experts, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, raising concerns about the future impact of Generative AI if development is not regulated globally. Hinton has worked extensively with neural networks and been instrumental in the kind of generative AI behind Google’s Bard, Microsoft’s Bing, Meta’s LLaMA and OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

The CIPD has guidance on the use of AI in organisations, including urging employees not to share sensitive information when interacting with AI chatbots and balancing opportunity with risk as well as looking to repurpose time freed up by the use of AI (rather than seeing it as a threat to jobs).

I thought I would see whether ChatGPT was in a good position to replace my monthly efforts with On The Horizon.

Question posed to ChatGPT 9 May 2023: What are the current themes for employers of working parents or working carers?

ChatGPT’s response:

The current themes for employers of working parents or working carers include:

  1. Flexible working arrangements: Employers are offering flexible working arrangements such as remote work, part-time work, job sharing, and flexible hours to help working parents and carers balance their work and personal responsibilities.
  2. Mental health and wellbeing support: Employers are recognizing the impact of caregiving responsibilities on mental health and wellbeing, and are providing support such as employee assistance programs, counseling services, and mindfulness training.
  3. Parental leave policies: Employers are offering parental leave policies that go beyond the statutory minimums to support new parents and promote work-life balance.
  4. Childcare support: Employers are providing support for childcare, including on-site daycare, subsidies for childcare costs, and backup childcare options.
  5. Career development and advancement: Employers are recognizing that working parents and carers may face additional challenges in career development and advancement, and are providing opportunities for training, mentoring, and career progression.
  6. Inclusion and diversity: Employers are recognizing that working parents and carers may come from diverse backgrounds and may face unique challenges, and are working to create an inclusive and supportive workplace culture.

Overall, the focus is on creating a workplace that supports the diverse needs of working parents and carers, and promotes work-life balance, mental health and wellbeing, career development, and inclusion.

Having very likely contributed to the vast body of material ChatGPT is sampling, I have to say this looks a pretty fair summary to me (if rather general).

A UK government consultation is open until 21st June on the UK’s proposed pro-innovation approach to AI regulation.

3. Diversity and Inclusion are much discussed alongside the Coronation, Eurovision, Volunteering Week and Carers Week

Among many voices appreciating the efforts made to weave D&I into the 1,000-year old Coronation ceremony was Zara Mohammed, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain who commended His Majesty’s ‘commitment to inclusivity and unity by inviting members of all faith communities, including Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others, to participate in the ceremony’. From the Jewish community, Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis and his wife were hosted at St James’ Palace on Friday night and Saturday in order that he could both observe Shabbat and attend the Coronation service at the Abbey without using motorised transport. The greetings offered by a range of faith leaders were unamplified as another consideration to the Shabbat.

There was even an effort to include those who seek to protest against the existence of the monarchy by designating Trafalgar Square for protestors. Policing of this did become messy in the event, though perhaps ironically has also boosted membership and funds of the anti-monarchy group Republic.

The blended family of their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla gives a further inclusive opportunity to think about the many family structures existing in our society. At Bright Horizons, we think about everyone having family of some kind, whether that's you and a dog, a neighbour you care for or multiple combined generations brought together as a family.

Will the Coronation lead to an outpouring of inclusive community spirit? According to John Mohan, Professor of Social Policy and Director of the Third Sector Research Centre at Birmingham University, in the 1950s, ‘orderly careers’ were seen as a basis for volunteering and current turbulent times and re-designed approaches to career pathways pull against this. However, the Big Help Out, which started on 8th May and continues towards Volunteers Week 1-7 June, suggests there is a willingness to take part. Employers can help reverse recent years’ decline in formal volunteering by encouraging staff to take time for causes that are relevant to their organisation’s mission.

At Bright Horizons, one of the many fund raisers for the Bright Horizons Foundation will take place on 20th May when members of the work+family and marketing teams hold sponsored walks in London, Manchester and Northampton to fundraise in memory of a staff member tragically killed, aged 29, a victim of domestic abuse by her ex-partner. Working with Salford Women's Aid and Solace Women's Aid, the funds will help create two Bright Spaces in her memory in London and Manchester, providing safe, welcoming and fun play environments to help children begin to recover from trauma.

Other current high profile platforms for inclusion can be found as Liverpool hosts the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine 9th to 13th May and Carers Week focuses on the contribution of unpaid carers to the community 5th to 11th June. At Eurovision, new inclusivity training will aim to prepare volunteers to welcome all visitors including those with visible and invisible differences and identities, taking this Eurovision’s focus on inclusion some way beyond its customary LGBTQ+ inclusive image. Tying in with Carers Week, our next webinar with HRreview will address the attraction and retention of the 50+ workforce and carers.

What will your organisation be doing to combine volunteering with inclusion at this topical moment? Corporate volunteering is known to boost employee engagement and morale. We also know that the passion felt for the Bright Horizons Foundation is one of the many reasons why organisations such as Bright Horizons have remained consistently among the Great Place to Work best workplaces, as announced this month.