‘See the person sitting in front of you - be human': panellists share pregnancy advice for employers at Tommy’s event

We were delighted to welcome an audience of employers and HR professionals from across the UK to our second annual Pregnancy and Parenting at Work event on Thursday 7 September.

Delegates from businesses big and small joined our panel, hosted by BBC Global Health Correspondent Tulip Mazumdar, to find out more about how employers can best support employees through all sorts of pregnancy journeys – including those which sadly include loss.

1 in 4 parents in the UK lose their baby during pregnancy or birth, through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, neonatal death and other forms of loss. Despite impacting so many people, losing a baby is often still considered 'just one of those things'.

2 years ago we launched the Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work training and resource membership scheme to help change the workplace experience of pregnancy and pregnancy loss.

Though the conversation is gaining momentum, there is still a long way to go to break the silence, especially in the workplace, which is why events like ‘Policy to practice: Supporting employees through all pregnancy journeys in the workplace’ are needed.

Creating real cultural change in the workplace takes time and it can be overwhelming to know where to start or where the focus should be. Our event aimed to help employers and HR managers understand the complexities of pregnancy and parenting in the workplace, and get advice and guidance they can use to create a more understanding and flexible work environment.

Our panellists included those with pregnancy and baby loss expertise and lived experience, and those with decades of business leadership and workplace wellness knowledge.

Joining Tulip – a journalist and broadcaster who has spoken out about her own 4 losses and helped improve understanding of miscarriage through her reporting and documentary ‘Miscarriage: The Search for Answers’ - were Tommy’s midwife Alicia Burnett, Associate Professor in Human Resources Management Dr Krystal Wilkinson, Santander’s Head of Inclusion and Belonging Drew Gibson, and business strategy consultant Paul Rowlinson.

“Work can be a real balm, it can be really helpful in your recovery when it’s handled with kindness, when people... even if they don’t know what to say... there’s some acknowledgement of what you’ve been through. It can really help. It helped me, and I feel very lucky I had that experience,” explained Tulip in her introduction.

“But handled badly - and no one handles these things badly on purpose, no one’s cruel, but often they just don’t know what to do or what to say, they don’t know enough about miscarriage to know how to make good decisions and support people - it can really affect recovery and make things seem even worse.”  

As reported in the CIPD’s People Management magazine, Drew explained that for many organisations, employers shape their policies around ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ pregnancies and neglect to really consider those which sadly end in loss.

“When it comes to organisational policy, or government policy or legislation, it's still just the starting point, and it's focused on what a typical pregnancy or parenting journey looks like. If there's one thing to take away, it's that it doesn't exist,” he explained.  

His advice was to “make sure you have conversations with the person about their experience and what could have been done to support them better. Being members of Tommy's PPAW makes sure we at Santander have those support resources available."

Organisations with good pregnancy policies and practice must plan for, and be flexible enough, for all sorts of different journeys.

Dr Wilkinson said that ideas around a “typical pregnancy” can also ignore the needs of LGBTQ+ couples that might have less traditional paths to pregnancy, and those from minority communities. She urged firms to engage with community staff network groups about their needs. “I think generally as a society we need to be more aware of intersectionality and inequity,” explained Alicia.

Research from both Tommy’s and the CIPD shows that, overall, managers want to help their employees going through the experience of baby loss but they just don’t have the knowledge, understanding or resource to do so. Our research also shows that those who feel unsupported in their pregnancy journey are much more likely to leave their role or consider leaving.

Investing in people is both the kind, and financially sensible thing to do for organisations. As Paul explained: “Something we need to think about across all industries is looking at how we support our people... in a way that’s good for the people but is also good for the business, and demonstrating that it’s good for the business."

Kindness and flexibility are vital when developing pregnancy-related policies and ensuring that they’re turned into workplace practice.

As Tulip said, “kindness is key. Stop for a minute, take and breath and see that person as a person."

Alicia advised that employers "see the person sitting in front of you - be human. Baby loss is emotional and it is scary but it needs to be talked about. As a manager, remember to be kind and approachable."

At Tommy’s we run a Pregnancy and Parenting at Work training and resource package for larger organisations, helping workplaces support their employees through any pregnancy journey, from planning and parenting to complications and losses.

This month we're also launching a roll-out of this training package – for free - to small and medium enterprises in the Greater Manchester and Birmingham areas, with support from Government funding.


To find out more about Pregnancy and Parenting at Work and how your organisation can benefit, visit Pregnancy and Parenting at Work or contact [email protected] to arrange a call with the team.