How to set up a parents network

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Parents network

Last year Ellie set up a parents network in her place of work with some amazing results. Our campaign with Pregnant then Screwed, Dear Employer, returns on 30th April 2019. In this blog post Ellie shares what she learnt about how to set up a parents network and the steps she took to get it off the ground. Hopefully this gives you an idea of the sort of thing you could be asking about when getting your pen or keyboard out and writing to your own employer (or previous employer) about what you’d like to see change for working parents…

Background

I work for a contact centre in Cheshire which employs around 1200 people across two buildings. 

Inspired by reading Helen’s “Open letter to my employer” where I resonated with a lot of her experiences, it made me think about my last return from maternity leave, 9 months after my 3rd child was born.

My employer offers so much support for parents so I didn’t feel it appropriate to write an open letter but there was definitely a gap between all of this support that is offered at a high level and it filtering down to colleagues at the front line, especially if you don’t live in and around London.  I felt I really wanted to bridge the gap but wasn’t too sure where to start on my own.

A colleague who was aware of my quest mentioned that Liz, one of the more senior leaders, had a similar vision so we arranged to meet for coffee one day.

Step One

We shared our experiences and the reasons we wanted to do this, then started to brainstorm all the ideas we had.  Being quite the organiser, I put all of this down on paper and drew up a starting point (including a SWOT analysis to identify the weaknesses in our plan!).

Step Two

We engaged the senior leaders across the site to gain their support for our quest to set up a parents network, which we named “Empowered Parents”.  All leaders were extremely supportive so our next step was to gain further support from the rest of the site to understand whether this support network would be something colleagues would actually be interested in!

I wrote a brief overview of my experiences when returning to maternity leave and had it published on our daily bulletin that is emailed to every colleague to ask if my story resonated with anyone and if so, if they wanted to be part of the network.  I asked for them to email me with the reasons they felt they would like to be a volunteer.

Step Three

I was overwhelmed with the responses I received back from people who had really struggled on their return to work following maternity leave and how these people opened up about their personal experiences when I didn’t really know them.  To me, this highlighted that people felt they needed an outlet.

We had over 20 volunteers across all business areas of the site which was great and what I was most proud of was that 5 men also volunteered as they felt that not only did they need support but also insight into how they could help their partners.

Step Four

We called a meeting to share our ideas for what we wanted Empowered Parents to be but are always very adamant that this is not just our group, it has to be what people want it to be – we are just driving it forward.

We shared our vision for the group and categorised all of our ideas into 5 pillars as below:

Personal / Career Development    

  • Goal setting
  • Ted Talk Lunches / recommended podcasts & developmental literature
  • Q&A talks with working parents

Health & Wellbeing

  • Mental Health Workshops
  • Post-natal depression webinars

Networking / Events

  • “Speed Dating” event with volunteers to understand our stories
  • Dedicated intranet page to have all information in one place

Mentor / Coach / Support

  • Personal stories from volunteers of Empowered Parents so support can be tailored
  • Link on Intranet site to relevant internal pages

New Parents

  • Link in to Working Families Network
  • Workshops & support for returning from maternity leave
  • Promote availability of volunteers to be available when colleagues return from maternity leave for a catch-up coffee to provide support

Step Five

We booked the “Lounge” in our main building and planned to launch over the lunch break as a drop in session.

The event was set up with 5 Flip Charts, each with one of the 5 pillar categories at the top and post it notes and pens with each.  The idea was for colleagues to visit and talk to us about what support they felt they needed from each category either as a parent, a parent-to-be, a leader or someone who has parental responsibility for children.  The volunteers took it in shifts to man the event and we took contact details and names of everyone who attended.  We even had 4 women who were on maternity leave who came in to see us.

We are very lucky to have a Colleague Engagement team who created branding for Empowered Parents and packaged some sweets and provided refreshments for colleagues who would come to visit.  We also created a closed group Facebook page to use to share any events so that those on maternity leave can still feel part of the work environment and be invited along to future events should they wish.

Step Six

We emailed a questionnaire to all the colleagues who attended the event to measure the success of the drop in session and identify any areas of support we may have missed.  We will then publish them on our daily bulletin and are scheduled to attend the Senior Leader’s site meeting later this month to present our findings.

We have had such great support from colleagues at all levels about this initiative to set up a parents network.  I am so excited to see what a difference we can make to people’s lives!

Big thanks to Ellie for sharing her experience, how ace is that! Feeling inspired to make something like this happen, find all the details of how to get involved, including a template letter, here.

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