• Vicky Grinnell-Wright

Would your company pass The Bath Test…?

Spending my days working with teams who share a desire to make work, work better, I observe and hear a great deal about the real human experience of c21st work. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, and yes, some, it is fair to say, is still just plain ugly.

How is it that in an era of high profile big City firm executive searches for VPs of Diversity and Inclusion AND one in which we have seen some significant female Chair appointments made in multiple sectors (Penny Hughes for Aston Martin, Sharon White for the John Lewis Partnership and Gay Huey Evans, for the London Metal Exchange, to name a few), we also have an entirely contradictory and yet stubbornly persistent problem – that problem is: Sexism in the workplace. And, by extension, this supports every other type of ism.

A Guardian article from the start of 2019 revealed that Pregnant Then Screwed, who run a free legal advice line and a mentor scheme to support women taking legal action against employers, helps on average, 350 callers a year. The article reports that: In the past few months, it (the organisation) has carried out a survey of 260 women who had signed NDAs after experiencing pregnancy or maternity discrimination. More than 90% said they felt signing the NDA had had a negative impact on their mental health. At best, this NDA practice is incongruent with any corporate values statement I have ever seen and flys in the face of any stated intentions around fairness, inclusion, transparency and trust.

Across the pond things, it would seem, things are no better; a March 2019 Forbes article offers further evidence that our stated and public intentions and ambitions for inclusion and fairness are still showing a lack of powerful action – the headline reads: ‘It Could Take Half A Century To End The Gender Pay Gap New Research Suggests’ and this is in spite of the powerful evidence that diverse teams produce better bottom lines.

And yet, perhaps these headlines are not the full story? Maybe the flip side to this reportage is that there are, in fact, some green shoots of progress and some real reasons for optimism. Here is what I see that gives me cause for hope:

1. Results First Work, Works

Firstly, the clarion call for better, more flexible, adult-to-adult empowered and results-based work environments is growing louder and more cohesive across the generations and we can no longer dismiss this growing multi-generational demand as a ‘millennial fad’. Presenteeism based work cultures, team leaders, managers or colleagues are, bit by bit, finding themselves increasingly isolated in their out-dated theories that people cannot be trusted unless they are physically visible in a set location at pre-specified and legally contracted times. In no small part are the laggards of flexible working, with their attendant ‘enforceable contracts’ and command and control policies contributing to the growing community of ‘Corporate Leapers’ (those leaving big business and thereby creating significant brain and knowledge drain as a result). Too many of these laggards on the team and the Chief People Officer will have a tough year on Glassdoor.

2. Active Dads

Next up, we have the growing group of 'Active Dads', or, perhaps we might just call them ‘Dads’… It seems that the incoming generation of fathers are starting to opt FOR parenting. Motivations vary, from a desire to support equality at home or in the wider world, being in solidarity to their working female (or male) partners and colleagues, through to a basis of their own deep desires to be present as a father and to do so without seeing their own career ambitions compromised by systemic prejudices in the written and hidden evaluation criterion of an organisation. Either way, and to my personal delight, there is a growing tide of insistence that men ‘want in’ and are increasingly choosing organisations less on pay and more for the propensity of that organisation to celebrate rather than penalise their choices to leave loudly. These Dads want to collect their kids without skulking off in secret, without needing to bend the truth, or lie.

3. The Bath Test

Today, I heard about something called ‘The Bath Test’. I am not clear on the specific definition of this anecdotal test, however, what was apparent was that this is not the usual ‘stick your elbow in the water to make sure it won’t burn the baby’ test. It sounded more like a test for the employer i.e. a ‘will I be able to bath our baby, or will I always be home after bedtime’ test. It is an interesting idea - how would your organisation rate on The Bath Test? Perhaps The Bath Test might become a new Glassdoor rating category? A neat catchall for an organisation’s disposition for, or against, active and participatory parenting as the norm. And why not? The evidence points to engaged Dads being more compassionate, empathic and human leaders. And, what is clear is that if we want parity between genders in the workplace, we have to have parity in parenting as a bonafide option for both parents. The playing field will never be level without it.

4. Not Everyone is a Parent - leave nobody behind

Last but most certainly not least for my causes for optimism, I would point to the other unsung heroes of change. Another formidable force pulling at the threads of business as usual to create ‘better’ and more equitable workplaces. These are…the non parents. Sadly, the un-intended consequence of a pro-parent stance on the world of work has meant, for some, feelings of being marginalised precisely for not being one. I hear this at least once in every team I work with. So, let’s be clear: Not everyone has a child. Not everyone wants one and whilst the flex-work movement has often become synonymous with being family-friendly, we need to keep in mind who gets ‘othered’ when we do so. There are other types of care (ageing parent, sick partner, pets, or just self) and these have, to date, for some felt like poor relation reasons for flex, compared to the parenting one. The good thing about this is that the affected group is massive. It’s power is great. Now that the ‘leave loud’ movement is starting to be embraced by those with a cat, a yoga class, or just because… change is happening.

Leave Loud and Leave Proud is a mantra and, perhaps, if we push on that open door, even an 'everyone in' movement. Maybe it is time to turn our values into actions an d simply stick these on the wall: 1.Leave Loud & Proud 2. Pass The Bath Test. Together, with small and determined steps, we will usher in a more inclusive and fully felt experience of our D&I ambitions.