Podcast 184 — Supporting Parental Leave Returners

Returning to work after parental leave can be a daunting time for parents. What can managers do to ease this process and support returners in the best way possible?

Written by Nicola Boyle
Published 03 March 2020
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Podcast 184 — Supporting Parental Leave Returners

This week on the Good Practice Podcast, Nicola Boyle and Cat MacLeod speak to Nikki Slowey from Family Friendly Working Scotland and Camden Council's Tom Spencer.

In the episode we discuss:

  • tips for managers supporting parental leave returners
  • some of the classic pitfalls managers fall into
  • the perceived (or actual) gender differences in attitudes towards returners

Hello, podcast listeners. Just a quick note before we start today's show. We had a few microphone issues when recording this week's episode, so the audio is a little patchy in places. The content, however, is topnotch as always, so we hope you'll excuse us this week hiccup and enjoy the discussion. Now, on with the show

Nicola

Hello, and welcome to the Good Practice podcast from Emerald Works, a weekly show about work, performance, and learning. I'm Nicola Boyle, and this week we're talking about supporting a parental leave earners. Here with me this week is Emerald Works' editorial manager, Cat MacLeod.

Cat

Hi there.

Nicola

And two special guests. Nikki Slowey from Working Families. Hi, Nikki.

Nikki

Hi there.

Nicola

And Thomas Spencer from Camden Council. Hi, Tom.

Tom

Hello.

Nicola

So something that you all have in common is that you have taken parental leave. Would either of you like to share your experiences of returning to work after parental leave? Were they good or bad? Cat, would you like to go first?

Cat

Sure. It's been a little while since I returned from maternity leave, and actually at a time when it was still women returners only. But I think my experience coming back to the company was one that was overwhelmingly positive. We were quite a small organization at the time. I think there had probably been a couple of trailblazers before me, because from a startup company, initially there weren't many working parents, or female returners, shall I say. I think that the experience that the first person that went on maternity leave and then came back to the organization was probably different to the experience that I had. I certainly remember that a colleague of mine had worked in HR. I think that she was aware that there were certain things that were lacking in the returners experiences. So was quite, I suppose, vocal in asking for certain things to be in place or to be better.

Actually, she developed some toolkit material on the back of it that we've used ever since, which is helping other organizations. But I think one of the important things was that I still felt very much part of the team. I was kept in the loop about any developments. I was invited along to social activities, which I would join in if I could possibly do so. So in terms of knowing what was going on and what I was coming back to, that was probably quite a good experience. I did use my keeping in touch days to meet up with my manager, so finding out what was happening. So those kind of things, they had good mechanisms for communicating in place.

I think coming back, one of the things I learned is that a lot of the stuff is new. Until you get back into work, you don't know how you're going to feel about things and you don't know what's going to happen. There's inevitable curve balls. You might think you're going back and you've agreed how many days a week and what that's going to look like. But in the background, your child goes into nursery, perhaps, as was the case with me, and they get subjected to a whole load of bugs. They're fine, but suddenly you're lying in your bed for several days. I don't know what they breed in these nurseries, but some kind of super bug that adults seem to be struggling to cope with. So there were those kind of things, and just the rhythm of the workings of getting to work and who's doing what and where you need to be and when.

All that kind of stuff, you used to just get up, get yourself ready, and go. But as a working parent, then there's all this other stuff that happens in the background before you even set foot over the door of work. So there was some sort of adjustment around that. I think something that's important to think about is that the whole emotional side of leaving a child with a group of competent strangers, shall we say, if they are in somewhere like nursery. That's quite difficult. You can hand over a perfectly happy child, or you can have this horrible air grappling thing as you move towards the door and they realize that you've abandoned them, or so they think. So there was quite a lot of that sort of emotional stuff going on.

Plus, I suppose for me, I took nine months out of the workforce, and you do worry about your place coming back and your confidence in your own abilities. The reality is that you've been developing a whole other lot of skills I'm sure we'll talk about later on. But yeah, there is the practical aspect. There's the having the support in place from work, but also how you just feel about coming back to work

Nicola

Sounds like it was a nice balance, then, when you were on parental leave between still knowing what's going on in workplace, but also being able to enjoy your leave as much as you can during a very chaotic and busy time. Tom, how about you? What was your experience?

Tom

Yeah, so I was fortunate. When my daughter was born, I took an extra month of parental leave at the beginning. So I was off for six weeks at the beginning. And then I had three months off from when she was months seven, eight and nine. So I broke it into two blocks. I guess that makes my experience slightly different in terms of ... I've just had someone come back from maternity leave. He's just been off for 13 months. In a way, I made it so that I was off for long enough to feel like I'd had a good amount of time off. But also not long enough for them to decide that someone else needed to do my job instead of me. So there's this ... how comfortable did I feel about ... So some of the things that people worry about, is someone else doing my job? Or someone doing it better than you, or those sorts of fears that you might have.

I, partly because I'm a man, I was able to manage those down a bit, some of those fears. I did the same. I kept in touch. I did quite a lot of keeping in touch, even during that three month period, just so I could make sure I was involved in it. In a way, I didn't have to suffer from some of that. I think a lot of what Cat said resonates in terms of what you care about or don't care about. I think I had this kind of na�ve view that there was only so many things in the world for me to care about. So when I had a child, I would just care a bit less about work and that would be fine. I've realized that the amount of things I care about has just got bigger, and it's a sense of ... So now I'm juggling ... I still care about work just as much, but I have to get home to do nursery pickup or I'm doing drop off or [Brenda's 00:07:41] not well or whatever those things are.

So it's this funny balance of what do I care about and what do I prioritize is part of the difficulty, I think. We've been juggling around with number of days in nursery and how much time do I have off, and do I compress my hours or not compress my hours? And actually, if I did compress my hours ... Or I was talking about doing fewer days, and actually going for it all in, because often women end up coming back part time, etc., and it's kind of like men don't often do that even if they take parental leave. So it's this thing around should I be doing it as a ... almost to test it or prove it to myself? But then I was also getting lots of stories of, ""Well, I went down to four days a week, but I still did just as many hours."" So you lose the money, but you still just do the work at the weekends or at other times

My daughter's 20 months, so we're still juggling how it all works and how that all fits together. But I'm off tomorrow for the day. So I'm now doing a nine day fortnight, and every other Wednesday I have off. It's been really great. Camden's been brilliant about it. But I like to think it's made me a bit more supportive of what other people's situations are, I guess, because I often saw ... I guess my earlier experience of this in the workplace was around seeing women come back from maternity leave, and then because they couldn't stay late or because they couldn't do the hours in quite the same way, they didn't necessarily get given the same work that they had in the past, or the same responsibility. There's that how we treat part time people and how we treat people who are working different hours is one of the challenges I'm not sure we've fixed yet, probably.

Nicola

Nikki, how about yourself?

Nikki

Well, my oldest, I've got three boys, and my oldest son is nearly 15. So it was quite a while ago. Going through my pregnancy, felt quite supported. Finished up. On quite a high, thinking, ""This will be fine. I'll go back to the role that I was doing."" Obviously, life changes so much. You have this wee baby, and all of a sudden you're thinking, ""Right okay, things are looking a wee bit different now."" My husband and I spoke about one of us working part time. And it was me that was the one that was going to be asking to work part time. So I made the request when I was off and on maternity leave. It was declined. So I was put in this really awkward position where I was basically told it was either be a manager or be a mum. Nobody in a management position worked on a part time basis. So there was a concern that the flood gates would open if I was ""allowed"" to work part time.

So that was a real eye opener for me. I was really sad. I was frustrated. I managed to get some other work for the same organization projects and different things. But yeah, I then realized actually going to little baby groups, little toddler groups and things, that actually there were so many people in the same position. I started to meet other, predominately women, at little groups and things who were saying, ""I used to do this,"" or ""I used to work here."" I became quite interested in the whole idea that why were they not doing that now? It seemed to be a combination of, ""Well, I just knew that the job was 70 hours a week and there was no negotiation and I couldn't do that with a wee baby, so I left."" Or ""Well, I am back at work, but it's really difficult, because when I go to leave to do the nursery pickup, people are shaking their heads and rolling their eyes.""

I think we just haven't quite had that good experience. I then started to talk to some dads as well and ask what their experience was like. For a lot of them, they were saying, ""I feel really sad. I get a week off or I get two weeks with the new baby, and then it was back to work and there's no possibility of any kind of flexibility around that."" So it just became a bit of a sideline interest of mine. What I did personally was started to work in a freelance capacity. I thought then I would have a bit more control. I would be able to work at the level that I wanted to work at, but the hours, I could commit. Then this role at Family Friendly Working came along, so I couldn't not take the opportunity because it was the thing that I was always talking about, and it was the opportunity to set up a new project, which is what I'd been doing on a freelance capacity.

So the good news from that story is that I now day in, day out get to work with lots of employers. Get to hear some really good examples of what employers are going ... what they're doing to support people through pregnancy, returning to work. But also flexible working, what things are changing in that space in terms of what employers are doing to support their people to work in a more flexible way.

Nicola

Yeah. Can you give us some examples of organizations that are doing it? What's best in class? What does it look like?

Nikki

For parental leave, I guess one of the things is just that really sensible approach, and it's a human approach, between a manager and the employee. I think sometimes when it comes to talking about parental leave or flexible working or caring responsibilities, managers clam up and they sometimes think, ""Gosh, I can't really ask that,"" or ""I can't really talk about that."" But the best approach is actually just that human centered approach where managers are encouraged to have really open conversations with their employees right from the beginning when somebody says that they're going to become a mum or a dad or become a carer, and they're just having that really open conversation. I think that seems like common sense. But it amazes me the amount of times that doesn't actually happen.

I think organizations that use their 'KIT' days, or 'Keeping In Touch' days smartly so that they really think out, ""What could we do in those days? What would be time best spent?"" Rather than just the person rocking up and they don't really achieve that much or get that much from it, so just spending a bit of time thinking how best to use those days. Asking the employee how they want to be kept in touch when they're off. There's sometimes assumptions made that, ""Oh gosh, if I start sending them the monthly bulletin, that would be overload."" Some people want lots of information. Others don't want to hear from their employer at all while they're off. You need to ask. So it's asking those questions and then keeping in touch in the way that's appropriate for the employee.

Then when it comes to returning to work, having the conversation about what their hopes are for their return to work in terms of are they planning on coming back in the same working pattern? Or are they looking to make any adjustments? And to try and have as open minded an approach to potentially any changes to the working pattern that the person may want and doing your best to try and support that. Then when you come back to work, quite often this is where I hear it goes really wrong for people because they come back and their workstation is not ready for them, or nobody's really thought about what they're actually going to be doing.

So actually to have quite a plan to return to work so that in those first days and weeks, people are really comfortable. They feel that they've got their place at the table. That again comes down to good management. One of the interesting things that larger organizations do, which I think's a really nice thing. I'd have liked this, actually, is buddy-ing program. So I've seen some organizations who ... So there's lots that the manager can do, the line manager can do. But this is a more informal thing, where you get a buddy, if you want, and it's somebody who's recently returned to work in advance of you, so you've got someone to share your experiences with.

Some of the larger organizations have parent and carer networks, which again, I think could be a really good thing because it's not just about work. These are networks you can go to and you can talk about all range of things, from your kid's sleeping and eating and all of those things. But it's just knowing that there's other people within the organization that are going through the same things as you, so those networks, I think, can be really helpful for people.

Then one of the things that I think's really important is progression, because I think Tom said there, quite often what happens is someone comes back from parental leave and they maybe get the flexibility they want, but actually then they get sidelined for the promotions and the good projects. So it's about continuing to check in that that person has been getting equal opportunity, or the opportunity that they want. Possibly that might involve some mentoring or some coaching or some sort of support, if that's what's needed, so that they don't drop off that cliff edge as a result of coming back and becoming a parent.

I think it's really good practice for an organization to track that, not just for the six months after someone comes back, but actually for a number of years after someone comes back, so that they're able to really see what the pattern is within the organization for parents that are returning. Are they getting the same opportunities as everybody else longer term in the organization? So those are all the kind of things that we're seeing at the moment that I would say are pretty good practice.

Nicola

Nikki, do you think that it's sometimes the case that people are just making assumptions for the returner about what they would like to do and what they might be able to do? Is that something that you've experienced?

Nikki

Parent returners, lots of people... I was having a conversation with someone the other day who ... someone who has a disability. And they were making all kinds of assumptions because they knew somebody else that at one point had had the same disability. So I think if you've maybe had a baby yourself or you know somebody who's had a baby, so you just kind of go, ""Yep, I know what that's like. I'm going to make assumptions."" I think that goes on all the time. Sometimes it goes on from a good place, because people will do ... you know the keeping in touch stuff? Managers will say, ""Oh, they're off and they're busy with their new baby, so I won't bother them. I won't ask them for keeping in touch days. I'll not tell them about what's going on because I don't want to burden them."" But actually, sometimes that can can be really helpful for people because it helps their return to work if they've been kept up to date.

So it's just about asking. Not making assumptions, and asking people those questions. But as I said, sometimes managers, I think, can be quite bad for not wanting to ask those, what they see as, quite personal questions, and that leads to assumptions being made in absence of the actual information from the person.

Nicola

Yeah. It goes back to what you were saying, Nikki, about just communication being absolutely key. So as far as making assumptions, are there any other examples of classic pitfalls that managers might fall into?

Tom

Just picking up on a couple of things that Nikki said, some of the stuff. So I've had someone come back from parental leave a month, six weeks ago. It's really just the nuts and bolts stuff about coming back that has really caused a lot of the bother. So it's been issues around access to emails, files having gone missing, laptop not working, etc. This person's had to chase around with IT for three weeks, at a point of which you want to come back in really quickly and land really well and be like, ""I'm back and I'm great."" Instead, it's like, ""I'm back and I'm sat in IT trying to sort out my laptop."" It's really difficult, I think.

Cat

We've done a piece recently on classic mistakes with onboarding. There's also cross-boarding where people are moving across the organization, so not coming in new to the organization. But I wonder if it almost would help managers to almost take a bit of a onboarding approach and just think about some of those key things to make sure that they're a ... because there are a lot of similarities, especially if you're working in a fast paced industry where things like the tech ... in six months, the systems you were working with or the version or any of that kind of stuff could start to cause issues. I wonder if it helps to take a bit of a holistic approach like that.

Tom

It's not something that you're doing all the time, necessarily. So it's this thing of loads of other managers in our organization, there's about 600 managers in our organization, loads of people will have done it. But we probably haven't actually learnt from what did people do well? What didn't go well? What goes wrong in Camden when people return? So I'm just having to learn all that stuff myself, and so is the person in my team. It's an interesting reflection. That's helpful.

Nikki

Yeah. I think there could be some really helpful little toolkits, little checklists, little prompts, for managers so that they're not getting themselves tied up in knots and they're not forgetting about the important stuff. I get your point there, Tom, about that technology thing. I know when I went back to work, I just had this crisis of confidence because I'd been away from work my senses were on high alert. A new baby. I just think you go back and it's quite nice if everything's in place and it works for you. So just little checklists, little things like that, that managers can refer to. It also starts to, I mean while everyone is an individual, it just also means that everybody gets the same treatment across an organization when they're returning into work.

Tom

I don't think it's a pitfall. It's maybe an organizational problem that we have, is that in some areas of work, it's easier to be flexible, I think, than in other areas. As you were saying a bit, Nikki, around, ""Oh, these sorts of roles can't be part time,"" we have a bit of that culture still a little bit. Whereas I'm able to say, ""Yes, it can be part time. Oh, and I know you've moved house. Oh, and I know you've got new nursery arrangements. So let's for the first couple of months, why don't you work from home two days a week, just to make that fit, and then we'll think about what that means in a ... Let's just talk about it and see how it's working in a ..."" so I'm able to do that for a few months and then see, rather than being, ""The rules are you can only work from home one day a week."" Or ""The rules are you have to be here so much.""

I guess I'm fortunate, and Camden's signed up as a Timewise Council, so in theory we should be able to do that. I'm not sure it's 100% possible across the organization. But it gives us a bit more of that flexibility you talked about, to be able to say, ""What's going to work for you? What should we do in the short term to transition you back in?"" Rather than it being a heavy landing, I guess, into the organization.

Nikki

Yeah, and flexible working works better for some roles than others, and that's just the nature of the beast. I think the problem arises when there's just some managers are quite closed to thinking differently about how that role could work, and there's definitely issues of trust there. You mentioned homeworking there, so somebody asking to work from home. Oh, sometimes that gives managers the wobbles because they think, ""God, if I can't see them, how do I know they're working?"" That really comes down to management and trust. It's not really to do with flexible working. It's just about trying to be open minded, equally open minded across an organization. But the end result will look quite different, depending on the role and the team dynamics and what it is that that individual is looking for.

Cat

I think once you've got different ways of working in place as well, it's great to be able to share that across the organization so that managers can see the different possibilities. It's not just about full time, part time or compressed hours. That there's different ways of doing it. I know certainly at Emerald, the wider group, have been looking at rolling out flexible working more widely and publicizing it more widely, and just some of the stories about how some people have got parental or caring responsibilities, and other people use flexible working for a whole host of different reasons. It's just really interesting to see and hear people's stories.

Nikki

I think that's so true. I think that that's so critical, that people can see others working in a flexible way. Actually, senior people as well, so it's almost giving them that signal that, ""Oh, this is okay to work in this way and not going to be detrimental to my career."" But it does, it certainly gives managers more confidence if they can look at others and see what they're doing and how they've done it, and the world hasn't fallen apart, and actually quite the opposite. Some really good things might have come out of enabling their people to work a wee bit more flexibly. So definitely sharing those stories, it's a good thing.

For me, starting off with my story as a returning mum, but actually the best thing that I think that's happened for the discussion around flexible working is actually what you're seeing there, Cat, it's not just mums now that are looking to work flexibly. Got more dads and we've got more carers. We've got people working later and longer in life, so saying, ""Okay, I'm going to retire later, but I maybe want to work a bit more flexibly in the run up to retiring."" But also, just people are more confident, I think, now of just saying, ""Okay, I don't have caring responsibilities. But I volunteer,"" or ""I'm running a marathon, so I want to train every second Friday."" So I think that's a good thing for the conversation around flexible working, because it moves it away from being just a woman's issue. And actually, it becomes a workplace, ""How are we going to create good working environments?"" I think that's quite a positive thing that you guys are doing.

Cat

Yeah. I think it's just about not just having that demarkation of, ""I've got my work self and I've got my home, and these are two completely different people."" It's about your values and about the things that matter to you and that ultimately make you happy.

Nicola

In any of your experiences, do you find that there are any perceived or actual gender differences in attitudes towards parental leave returners?

Tom

No. That was a joke, sorry. Bad joke.

Nikki

Well, there's definitely not as many men working flexibly as women. There's lots of men who would like to be working flexibly that we find in our research, who feel they aren't able to ask for that flexibility. So they're feeling that they would be regarded as maybe not taking their career seriously or they just think it would be knock back anyway, or they wouldn't be given the good work, or their colleagues would be resentful. So that's, I think, an issue we have at the moment. Women have been penalized, but the men are as well now to a certain extent.

Nicola

Do you find that that's in certain sectors, or is it just that is the norm sector-wide?

Nikki

It probably is more prevalent in certain sectors, maybe more traditional sectors. So you maybe think of legal professions, something like that. Not singling that profession out, but maybe in more traditional roles and jobs, that might be a little bit more prevalent.

Tom

When I tried, so before I worked for Camden, I was working for a consultancy and was starting to have conversations about having children, and I was asking them to think about their parental leave policy. So Camden Council pays exactly the same to women and men. So there's six months full pay. It's also now become available from as soon as you start in the organization. So you don't have to have been there for a period of time, so really, really good. But the consultancy I worked for had a very good policy for women. But the policy for men was just statutory minimum. So they were like, ""We've got a shared parental leave policy."" But it's like, ""Yeah, but that means I have to earn no money.""

So there's a lot of evidence to suggest that men are only likely to take it ... The reason women take it more than men still, one of the reasons, is that actually, women are more likely to get paid or additional pay above statutory minimum. So when you're making that decision as a couple, it would be stupid not to make that decision. My partner is self-employed, so she only got statutory minimum. So it made sense for me to take more of the time from a financial perspective, even as well as we wanted to do it. But you have to help people do it financially as well, because otherwise people can't afford to take the extra time and be off work, maybe, if they're only getting �130 a week or whatever it is. So it's a difficult one, I think. Organizations need to do more to even that side of things up.

Cat

There's quite an interesting recent article in Harvard Business Review called What's Really Holding Women Back? And it did some research with some type of professional services company, and the conclusion they came to was that both men and women struggled with being at work and the amount of work and not having enough time with their children. Actually, they were suggesting that overwork is one of the main problems, rather than ... But that helped to reinforce ingrained attitudes about women and the assumptions that they would step back if they had to be. They almost had ... women in that organization certainly, it was a bit of a no-win situation, because they either were expected to put their career on hold. Or if they didn't and were mothers, then they were held up to be the worst type of mothers. Those are called uncaring, career-driven parents. So it's an interesting article. We can put some details about it on the website. It's worth a look.

Tom

I also think another difference for me is, is there still something about the perceived difference is me having had a few months off, there's a bit of a kind of hero-syndrome thing going on a bit in a way of people being like, ""Oh, that's brilliant that you did that. That's so, so good,"" in a way that a woman would never get that sort of praise for having some time off for having some time off to look after their child. So it's this weird ... We need to praise men for it and be thankful and grateful that they're doing it. But it's also a slightly weird thing of like, ""Oh, that's brilliant that you do compressed hours and take one day off a fortnight,"" when really that's the least amount.

I've made it as easy for myself as possible, in a way, rather than actually going, ""You know what? I'm going to do two days a week for the next five years, and I'm not that worried about my career."" That's not a decision that I'm making that a lot of women are making. Even my partner is working three days a week. So it's like, how does that work?

Nicola

I love how people describe it as time off, or they've taken time off to have a baby.

Cat

I maintain it's easier to come to work a lot of the time. I love my daughter desperately, but yeah, yeah.

Tom

That one difference is actually what you do with your time off, as well. So it's this thing around dads get to have loads of fun with their children and run around and things, whereas actually, if you don't balance the amount of leave you have off, one of you ends up doing a lot more of the washing and the cleaning and all the other stuff that goes with it. So it's this ... you saying it as time off, I think makes sense for me. Yeah, it's much harder being off than being in work, I think.

Cat

I think one bit of advice that a colleague gave to me was that you don't spend time thinking about the other thing that you're not doing. So be in the moment. It can be hard when you go home and you're still thinking about work, but to just really think, ""Right now, I am in parent mode and I'm going to enjoy that time,"" because particularly the early years, you can almost wish it away and regret it. I find that a really good bit of advice, to just try and be in the moment. I find it easier, I don't know what this says about me, but I do find it a bit easier to focus on work in work and worry less about the home stuff, unless you get that dreaded call from the nursery or the school, in which case things change. But yeah, I did find that was a really useful bit of advice.

Nicola

I've got the biggest admiration for you all, being able to juggle work and kids as well. I only have a dog and that's hard enough. Does anyone have anything to add before we move onto the What I Learned This Week?

Tom

I think the one thing that pops into my mind that I didn't say was around, it's the thing around how people are treated after they come back. So I've met younger women in the organization who have explicitly said to me, ""I have to do as well as possible in the next four or five years before I have children so that I'm at a level at which I'm comfortable for the rest of for that period after I've had children,"" because the expectation even of younger women is that once they go off and have kids that their career progression is going to stagnate or not progress at the same rate. Again, it becomes potentially self-fulfilling if we all keep behaving in that way. So if you want to be head of Emerald Works, you need to get there really quickly before you have children.

Nicola

Noted. So now we're going to our regular feature, What I Learned This Week, where we each share something we've picked up on over the last seven days. Cat, would you like to go first?

Cat

Yeah. So what I learned this week, sadly, was the passing of Katherine Johnson, who was a NASA scientist and an incredible trailblazer, both in terms of women in the workplace and also women of color working at NASA in the 1960s, I think. So yeah, I've seen a film about her called Hidden Figures, which talks about all the scientific work that she did, doing these incredible calculations to get people into space missions, including John Glenn. I think she also worked on the mission to the moon. And just overcoming the most incredible barriers and prejudices along the way. So she was 101, to be fair. But I think that she was the most incredible role model for generations of aspiring women to follow

Nicola

Thanks, Cat. I've not actually seen Hidden Figures yet.

Cat

It's great.

Nicola

So it's very much top of my list now, yeah.

Cat

One of Kevin Costner's better roles, I have to say.

Nicola

Tom, how about you? What have you learned this week?

Tom

So I'm currently reading a book called You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy, which I'm holding up which isn't helpful for podcast listeners. So in Camden, we're doing a lot of work on the core skills and abilities that people need to do their work. One of those across the organization we're thinking about is listening. The bit that struck me this week particularly as I was reading it was around the idea of speech thought differential. So it's this idea that actually, people talk at about 120 to 150 words per minute, but that our brains can process so much more information that that amount of words in a minute. So it's that bit where somebody's talking at you and you stop listening and what's going on. But actually, it's because your brain has got the capacity to run off somewhere else.

It was interesting, because in the book she states that actually, people with higher intelligence actually potentially find it harder to listen. So people with higher IQs were seen as worse listeners because they're more likely to get distracted by other things. And actually, introverts aren't great at listening either because often, for introverts there's a lot going on inside, so their brains are busy with other things. What particularly struck me this week is that ... the suggestion in the book is that actually, sometimes we're listening to somebody and we have stopped listening and we realized we've stopped listening. But we don't acknowledge to the other person that we have. So we'll just fill the gaps ourself, rather than being like, ""You know what? My brain wandered off there. Can you just say that again?"" Because it feels really rude.

But somebody actually did it in a meeting the other day and was like, ""Oh, I'm really sorry, but I just was totally thinking about something else and I missed all of that,"" and everybody laughed in the room and thought, ""Oh, that person. That's just the sort of thing they would say."" But actually, it made them a better listener than not saying that, because actually they were willing to be like, ""I stopped listening properly for a minute there and I need to take the message,"" whereas we often hide behind this fa�ade of we are listening. To it's just being

Nicola

Just smile.

Tom

Yeah, and just be like, ""Oh right, yeah. That's really interesting,"" rather than actually hearing them. So it's that kind of how can we be more honest about the times when we're not actually listening very well, is my ... think I'm going to try and do this week is be more honest about that. I've definitely listened to all of you, though, today.

Nicola

No, that sounds very interesting as well. We'll pop a link in the show notes to that book as well.

Cat

Yep, sounds good.

Nicola

Nikki, what have you learned?

Nikki

Okay. So I believe that one of the big solutions to gender equality is, A, more men working flexibly, and B, men having access to well paid parental leave. So I've been following the story of Aviva, who since 2017, have offered all parents equal paid parental leave. Then this week, they released some up to date figures, which that since they introduced equal parental leave, 50% of people taking parental leave in the company are fathers, and a third of them are working flexibly on their return. So at the moment in the UK, new dads on average take just two weeks of leave. But because it's paid, at Aviva, the average is five months. So that's five months of full pay. I think that just shows how equal parental leave policies can really transform parenting patterns in society. To me, that's a win-win for mums and dads and families, children as well.

Nicola

Thank you for that. It's very appropriate for this podcast. Thank you. My 'What I Learned', so I told someone about this, and apparently it was all the rage about a year ago, but somehow completely passed me by. So I might be the last person on the planet to know about it. But apparently ... Well, there is a website called What3Words.com. They have assigned each three meter square in the world with a unique three word phrase that will never change. Nikki's nodding her head. Have you heard of this?

Nikki

I have heard of that, yeah. Just recently, though. Within the last two weeks.

Cat

I haven't, so you're not the last.

Tom

I haven't heard of it either.

Nicola

Thank you. So it's as accurate as GPS coordinates, but the idea is that it's just much more memorable and just an easier way to describe exactly where you are. So I'm recording this from the Emerald Works Edinburgh office just now, so I popped in our address, and our three words are zones, cities, ships, which I quite liked. So it's quite an interesting website. I think it'll be interesting to see that in the future, businesses or any other organizations describe their address by using their three words. That's pretty cool.

That's all from us this week. If you'd like to get in touch about anything we said on the show, you can tweet me @Nicola_BoyleEW. You can tweet Cat ..

Cat

@CatGoodPractice.

Nicola

And Tom, what's the best way for people to get in touch with you?

Tom

So I'm on Twitter as well. It's TomBSpencer.

Nicola

Thank you. And Nikki?

Nikki

Yeah. I'm on LinkedIn, Nikki Slowey. And I'm on Twitter, NikkiSlowey73.

Nicola

Thank you. You can find out more about Emerald Works at EmeraldWorks.com, and you can tweet us @Emerald_Works. If you've enjoyed the show, please leave us a review, so you never miss an episode. Thanks for listening. Bye for now.

To find out more about Nikki Slowey and Family Friendly Working Scotland, check out their website: https://www.familyfriendlyworkingscotland.org.uk/

The Harvard Business Review article Cat mentioned can be found at: https://hbr.org/2020/03/whats-really-holding-women-back?sf117680049=1

To find out more about more Katherine Johnson and her career at NASA, click here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/24/science/katherine-johnson-dead.html

Tom's book recommendation was 'You're not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters' by Kate Murphy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Youre-Not-Listening-Missing-Matters/dp/1787300951

To learn more about Aviva's parental leave policy, click here: https://www.aviva.co.uk/business/business-perspectives/featured-articles-hub/equal-parental-leave/

To find out your own unique 3-word address, click here: https://what3words.com/

Nikki Slowey

Nikki Slowey

Co Founder, Flexibility Works

Flexibility Works is a social business, co-founded by two of Scotland’s leading experts in Flexible Working – Lisa Gallagher and Nikki Slowey.

Flexibility Works is now harnessing all of our energy, knowledge and passion to support more employers than ever before to move their dial on flexible working. Our approach is human, professional and practical.
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Nicola Boyle

Nicola Boyle

Marketing Communications Executive, Emerald Works

Nicola has over six years of marketing experience. Her responsibilities include managing social media, podcast and webinar channels, as well content management and event planning. Nicola enjoys identifying and anticipating client needs and delivering the best possible experience to build successful long-standing client relationships.
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Catriona MacLeod

Catriona MacLeod

Editorial Manager, Emerald Works

Catriona has over 19 years of experience in editorial management. She works with clients across a wide range of sectors to deliver relevant and practical resources to meet the learning needs of leaders and managers. Catriona loves the variety of her role, from writing and editing content to conducting video interviews with industry experts.
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About the author

Nicola Boyle

Nicola Boyle

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