From education to employment

Embracing equity and creating a supportive culture for pregnant employees

people working and discussing

Ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March – the theme for which is Embracing Equity – and the second reading of the Miscarriage Leave Bill in Parliament (24 March) we caught up with a Tommy’s Pregnancy and Parenting at Work (PPAW) member to discuss their commitments to pregnant employees.

South Staffordshire College are Tommy’s Champions – an accredited earlier-adopter member of our PPAW employer training and support package, which includes legal, practical and emotional training to help line managers through their employees’ pregnancy journeys.

We set up PPAW in 2021 and currently have several large corporate accredited members, including Santander and Bonnier Books, and professional organisations like the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians.

With Government support, PPAW will now be expanding to include training for small and medium sized businesses in the Birmingham and Greater Manchester areas.

South Staffordshire College, which has employees across four sites in the West Midlands, is the first education provider to sign up for PPAW.

Recent research shows that around three quarters of people employed in the education sector (schools and universities) are female, and like many further education institutions, South Staffordshire has a higher percentage of women employees than male.

Karen O’Reilly, Assistant Principal with responsibility for Human Resources at the College explain show the College has benefitted to date:

“Over the past few years, Tommy’s has provided online courses suitable for managers to understand how to manage someone through their maternity period and also when people endure baby loss.

“One of our managers who recently completed the courses said that‘I have had children myself and thought that this was an area that I understood, and yet I learned through the courses the best way to manage someone – it was invaluable and I would take that learning into consideration in the future’.”

Ensuring that the College’s managers are well-trained and that the College has tailored, compassionate policies for employees’ pregnancy journeys, which might include IVF, pregnancy complications, or the devastation of baby loss, is vital for creating an equitable workplace – as is ensuring that the needs of thepartners of pregnant people are included.

Karen says: “We want to ensure that we are seen as a good employer. We’re hopeful that our policies are supportive of all aspects of having children, including adoption, shared parental leave and the role that partners take.  

“A focus around entitlements around baby loss and what that means for loss under 24 weeks and for loss after more than 24 weeks are important and part of our support package. 

“By giving women the opportunity to talk to us about career plans before they return to work, we’re giving them both support and control when they return.  We also ensure that our Adoption Policy matches our Maternity Policy as this is as important to create the right support for an adopted child or children.”

Karen says that the response to PPAW from employees has been good:

“We share our policies, training opportunities and any accreditation updates with our staff via key messages which go out weekly to all staff during term time,” she explains. “Staff are appreciative of the work we’ve done in this area.”

Pollyanna Noonan, Tommy’s Corporate Partnerships Manager adds: 

“At Tommy’s we’re supporting the Miscarriage Leave Bill and hope that it will be introduced into law – ensuring that anyone who experiences baby loss before 24 weeks is entitled to a minimum period of leavein the knowledge that they will not lose their job.

“However, through PPAW we’re encouraging employers to not wait for the outcome of the Bill and instead take the initiative to develop their own policies that are compassionate and adapted to individual needs. We know that even if the Bill becomes law, change can happen slowly. Organisations have a huge opportunity to lead the way and create supportive workplaces where all pregnancy journeys are understood and cared for.”

On the long-term benefits of being a PPAW member and an employer that offers best-practice support for employees, Karen says: 

“Tommy’s has a good reputation, are the experts and very knowledgeable so they were the ideal partner for the College.Being a Tommy’s Champion means that we will stay at the forefront of good practice in this area and can encourage others to do the same!”

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