Parental leave focus improves Peoplebank’s retention

Peoplebank has dramatically increased its retention of new parents after introducing targeted initiatives to support their return to work, says CEO Peter Acheson.

Previously, fewer than 20% of staff who went on parental leave returned to the workplace, but this number is now sitting at 82%, Acheson told Shortlist.

“We ran a series of focus groups with a number of people who had gone on maternity leave and opted not to return to work and talked about why it was they hadn’t returned to work, and but also what we could do to entice them to return to work,” he said.

“The key thing they told us is, ‘if you want us to return to work, make us feel relevant. You need to make us feel like we’re part of the organisation going forward, both while we’re on maternity leave and while we’re preparing to come back’.”

Feedback from employees also indicated preferences for flexible or remote work, which spurred Peoplebank to review its roles to see if that was possible, said Acheson.

Based on this feedback, four years ago the company launched two diversity programs that are still running, helping it earn consecutive citations as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality, he said.

The ‘Stay in Touch’ program keeps employees in the loop while they’re on parental leave, including by sending company-wide communications and invitations to work functions and internal celebrations, “so they feel like they’re part of the company even while they’re on leave”, said Acheson.

“About 50% of our staff are female. So one of the really important initiatives is that when a female goes on maternity leave… we continue to stay in touch and treat them, effectively, as if they’re employees – because they are.”

The other initiative, the ‘Return to Work’ program, provides training that prepares primary carers for their return to work after a long absence, Acheson said.

“It’s actually run by a third party called Mums@work and helps our employees returning to work really build their confidence, to assist them on focusing on themselves and their careers, while juggling the dynamics of having a new family member,” he said.

Increasing diversity in internal hiring

Acheson said Peoplebank also works actively to minimise gender bias during its internal recruitment process.

“We have number of things we do. One is we want to make sure there’s always a female candidate [on our shortlists],” he said.

“We even had the Workplace Gender Equality Agency come in and do a workshop with our team members nationally, on how to ensure you write job advertisements to ensure they are gender neutral.”

Maintaining a commitment to merit-based hiring, however, remains essential, said Acheson.

“The commitment to hiring on merit is very important because nothing will damage the credibility of a gender diversity program more than when people feel candidates who mightn’t necessarily be the best candidates for the job are getting the job because of their gender,” he said.

Peoplebank also works with its clients to increase gender equality in candidate attraction, including through job design, modifying the language of both job descriptions and advertisements, and minimising the number of candidates self-selecting out, Acheson said.

“We work with our clients in helping them appreciate the issue of unconscious bias and also making sure the interviews are structured in a way that ensures the unconscious bias is not present,” he said.

In addition to promoting client workplace benefits such as flexible working hours, Peoplebank also assists clients with salary negotiation, said Acheson.

“One of the big ones is getting clients to understand they need to have an appreciation for pay equity.”

Acheson said the best advice he can offer to other recruiters trying to improve their gender diversity is to be patient and understand that cultural change in this area starts with leadership.

“It’s a journey. You don’t flick a switch one day and go from being gender neutral to being strongly supportive of gender diversity overnight. It is genuinely a cultural shift that happens over time,” he said.

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