MP Jo Swinson has tabled a bill that would require organisations employing more than 250 staff to publish their family leave policies. Jo describes this as a ‘simple and practically effortless change’. She notes that this isn’t a silver bullet, but argues that better information is part of the answer.
I agree with her. Because the policy is only part of the story.
Once upon a time, I applied for a new job. Flexibility being a necessity for me, I checked out their website. There, loudly proclaimed was its status as a family friendly employer. A supporter of flexibility. There was the policy and the guidance, and even a handy list of the types of flexibility permitted. As a candidate, relief. No need for an awkward conversation during the recruitment process, hoping that your experience and your answers to the interview questions outweigh your need for a just little bit of flex. It was a significant contributory factor in accepting the offer.
On starting, I mentioned flexibility to a colleague. In response, a raised eyebrow and a wry smile.
And so I learned the hard way about the gap between the corporate rhetoric and the everyday reality.
I do support the initiative to encourage publication of family policies. Many organisations do this already – even if some of them don’t really mean it. I support the notion for perhaps a simplistic reason; anything that highlights the importance of this issue is a good thing. It may force some organisations to rethink their offer and positioning for the better, especially if flexible working starts to (finally) be understood as a talent acquisition opportunity. Publication would help to prevent candidates from having to decide between asking the questions and the consequences it may bring. It brings this discussion to the forefront.
But the policy is only part of the story. The rest of it takes place in the everyday.
And we must focus here, too.