International Women’s Day 2024: making the workplace more inclusive of pregnancy and parenting

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is ’Inspiring Inclusion’. We spoke to some of the organisations signed up to our Pregnancy and Parenting at Work programme to discover how this can apply to parenting journeys in the workplace.

1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, which represents a significant proportion of an organisation’s workforce who might experience the heartbreak of loss – whether it’s mums, dads or partners.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the existing silence and stigma surrounding loss can make it difficult for people to access the support they need, especially at work. 

At Tommy’s, we’re building a community of inclusive workplaces who provide support for parents and those on a pregnancy journey, from creating enhanced maternity and paternity leave policies to the implementation of flexible working practices. 

For International Women’s Day 2024, with the help of our Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work (PPAW) members, we have put together some practical recommendations on how other organisations can forge more inclusive workplaces which are supportive of all pregnancy journeys.

Think about the full pregnancy and parenting journey

Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for parents and those hoping to become parents means considering before – and after – the pregnancy journey too. Be mindful of the fact that it won’t always be easy. “We grant up to 10 days each year for employees to undergo fertility treatment, and this also applies to partners,” said Jasvin Bains, People Advisor at VML. “And in cases where someone sadly loses their baby, we offer 10 days paid bereavement leave – no matter their length of service.”

Providing a supportive environment for parents is so important for maintaining an inclusive workplace. A survey we carried out in 2022 showed that over half of women and birthing people left their workplace shortly after returning from maternity leave, and having an unsupportive employer was one of the leading reasons. “Introducing the Pregnancy and Parenting at Work programme has made the team more mindful of those who are pregnant or parents,” said Sarah Tester, Finance & Operations Director at Lifehouse Spa & Hotel. “It’s gone a long way to reducing stigma.”

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We have staff who have children, and we also have staff who have had miscarriages or terminations, and we have staff for whom the fertility journey will not be linear.

— Stephanie Ward, Executive Director at Stephanie Ward Online Business Services

Have plans – and policies – for more complex pregnancy journeys

Alongside offering enhanced maternity, paternity and adoption leave, developing policies for more complex or unexpected outcomes can be incredibly valuable. “We’ve got premature birth policy for parents whose babies are born before 37 weeks, and a neonatal care policy which provides extra leave for parents whose babies are born after 37 weeks but still require time in hospital in their first 28 days of life,” said Jasvin.

3 in 4 premature births were unexpected, and it can be a traumatic and frightening time for parents. Having a policy in place that provides support and leave means it’s one less unknown for them to have to navigate.

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I think a barrier is that people can take pregnancy and parenting for granted and don’t give it the thought it deserves, or even see it as something that even relates to inclusion.

— Sarah Tester, Finance & Operations Director at Lifehouse Spa & Hotel

Create a safe space for conversations

One of the biggest barriers to opening up conversations around complications and loss is people not knowing what to say, or fearing they’ll say the ‘wrong’ thing. This often results in people saying nothing at all, which can increase feelings of isolation for the person experiencing it: “Lived experiences are not always easy to share in the workplace,” said Jasvin.

Alongside physical training resources, the most powerful tools you can provide people with are the language and understanding to approach these conversations more confidently. “We should not fear the difficult conversations, and yet so many do,” said Stephanie Ward, Executive Director at Stephanie Ward Online Business Services. “As a fairly new company, we haven't had to manage any situations like pregnancy or baby loss among our staff – but we have had to manage it among clients twice.” 

Providing training for all colleagues helps grow confidence, breaking down the misconceptions and taboos around pregnancy complications and loss: “The training courses have been a real eye opener for us all,” said Sarah. “We now have a heightened awareness which has opened up the communication channels a lot more.”

This increased understanding will also go a long way to strengthening relationships and connections between colleagues, clients and beyond – vital for building an inclusive workplace.

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Working with Tommy’s has helped to encourage positive, supportive language and has given employees the confidence to talk about their experiences. 

— Jasvin Bains - People Advisor at VML