It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint - EX for Working Parents.

Community Series Volume Eleven with Sharne Fairbrother.

Increasing the number of women in our leadership pipelines is a challenge that is here to stay. Unfortunately, I come across too many organisations that think:

  • "We support working parents - we have a great parental leave policy"
  • "The answer to our leadership gap is a Women in Leadership programme"

In 2023 I believe we can do better - there is no excuse to not have a fuller understanding that:

  • Your employees who have children will be actively parenting while working for 20+ years of their career, so only supporting the first 12-18 months of this is approaching a marathon as if it was a sprint.
  • Just sending women on a cookie cutter development programme is highly unlikely to grow representation in your leadership pipeline. If you do happen to choose a high quality one, then the growth in self-awareness and space for reflection may well mean you'll lose the participants from your organisation completely.

I believe the key to success lies in taking a step back to properly consider your employee experience through the lens for example "of a working mum". When doing so, taking a human-centred design approach really matters. Why? Because you cannot hope to fully understand a problem if it doesn’t impact you.

It’d be easy to jump to “my People Experience team is mostly comprised of working mums (entirely probable given the gender mix of the profession) so surely we can just figure this out ourselves”. Not too fast I say:

  • We have to recognise the privileged position those of us in the PX space within an organisation are in. We probably know ‘the system’, all the policies and what should be happening. Do we really know how this plays out in practice in the wider organisation? And having put some, if not most, of this in place are we really willing to confront where the current state is lacking?
  • Just because you’ve experienced something doesn’t mean you are going to be open-minded, non-judgemental or compassionate to those currently going through the same experience … in fact studies show the opposite. The combination of an empathy gap and the knowledge of your own ability to endure can result in a negative bias towards others who might be grappling with a similar experience to one you’ve persevered through.

This is where ensuring you are truly doing this with (rather than to) your employees comes in – engaging others right across your organisation in reviewing employee experience. Organisations who want to deeply understand the barriers and problems getting in the way of them retaining and growing talented women will gather diverse and representative insights and data and then co-create possible solutions with their people. I love walking alongside them in this awesome adventure of experimentation and learning.

For those who, like me, love making an impact to the world of world through employee experience I’ll leave you with a couple of tips:

  • Set yourself up to have access to data and insights before you need them. How are you measuring your employee experience? Do you have comprehensive and frequent quantitative data being collected (please don’t tell me you are still using annual engagement surveys)? What trends can you measure across your employee base? What access do you have to gather qualitative insights? Establishing employee networks or representative groups can be a great place to start.
  • Apply a product-mindset to your employee experience. Think about how Apple manage their products – they are constantly learning about how people use their products, listening to their needs and then frequently releasing a new and improved iteration. In the People space we too often finish an initiative or improvement project, launch it and then move on to the next thing, leaving what we delivered untouched for years. Instead put your product hat on, make a plan to deliberately learn how this part of your employee experience performs and then use these learnings to make regular tweaks and iterations to keep it hitting the mark.
Sharne Fairbrother

Sharne Fairbrother

Sharne is a coach, executive-level leader and EX designer based in Wellington, NZ. With close to 20 years of experience in People roles within community organisations, corporates and tech start-ups, she founded 2XW Coaching & Consulting to help organisations take a human-centred design approach to increasing the representation of women in their leadership pipelines. Sharne is also the co-founder of The White Swan Collective – a group dedicated to unlocking the infinite potential of women around the globe. Their revolutionary approach seamlessly integrates neuroscience, heart coherence, and quantum physics to provide women with a proven pathway to crafting legacies. When not working on and in her businesses, Sharne is a big rugby fan, avid traveller, keen foodie and bumbling lifestyle block owner … though these all take a backseat to her main job as the loving mum of two powerhouse kids.


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