This module of the Toolkit contains a set of simple, practical and readily-actionable techniques that can help you to either develop a parenting group for your business or to help you support your employees to join an online or and external parenting group hosted by an external organisation.
Why is it important to support working fathers?
What is a parenting group?
The workplace can provide a great opportunity for parents, those caring for children or parents-to-be, engage with one another to discuss concerns, meet people in a similar situation and share information in order to support their parenting experience. While for smaller business it may not be practical to facilitate an organisational parenting group it may be possible to facilitate something online or support and encourage employees to join an externally facilitated parenting group.
A parenting group can meet face to face, or through online forums, and this toolkit offers tips and resources either for setting up a group or helping contributing to one that already exists.
Setting up a parenting group
Every organisation is different. Employees may be located on a single, central site, or be dispersed. You may have mobile staff or staff working from home. You may only have one or two employees who are parents. The first point to consider when developing a parenting group is the extent to which your business can support and fund the group and what is actually practical for you to do in this area. Next, it is important to find the most appropriate format – some larger organisations set up parenting groups at a set time and place in an allocated room, others will have “virtual” groups using the staff intranet or other online space. For smaller organisations, the most practical approach is likely to be to encourage staff to join a pre-existing externally supported group but it is still a good idea to think about how you might support them to do this. It might be that your business pays to be a member of a third sector organisation which runs these types of external parenting groups.
Bear in mind that parents come in a range of forms, some of whom may have traditionally felt marginalised in conversations about parenting, so ensure that fathers, single parents, step-parents and LGBT parents are included when talking about parenting groups. Approaches to facilitating these different approach are outline below.
Joining an external online parenting group
For many SME’s setting up an organisational parenting group will not be practical. However, you may still see advantages of supporting your employees in this way. If this is the case, you may want to consider joining a pre-existing external parenting group and encouraging your employees to participate in this. Below is some advice about how you might do this.
Identify a suitable external forum. Below we have some examples or types of forums you could consider.
• Music Football Fatherhood
• Dope Black Dads
• Life of Dad (Facebook group)
• r/Daddit (Reddit forum for Dads)
Contact the external organisation that facilitates the group and enrol your organisation with it. Think about things like potential costs, liabilities etc
Encourage parents to join the external group. This could be through the use of posters.
Continue to support the external group and the parent employees from your organisation who are members. For example, you might want to run a webinar on an issue that your organisation has experience around that will be of interest to parents.
Setting up a face to face parenting group
If you are a larger SME with staff located in one location you make want to consider setting up a face to face parenting group.
Get permission from the organisation to host a parenting group, as well as an online page on the organisational intranet (if possible). Consider making the group a Parent and Carers group so it is more inclusive and covers all aspects of caring. Agree (where possible) resources for the group (such as refreshments and a budget for things such as printing and even outside speakers).
If possible, get a senior manager to champion the group. Having a top level “advocate” is not only a way to demonstrate that the organisation is behind the group, it can be a useful two-way conduit for information. So, for example, if employees feel that information about SPL or Parental Leave isn’t clear enough, this can be passed back to the appropriate person who is empowered to act on it. Being an “advocate” need not be a major role, even a quarterly catch up will keep the information flowing.
Identify a parenting group facilitator who can lead each meeting. Getting an enthusiastic and engaged co-ordinator will play a huge part in the success of the group.
Some tips on how to be a good facilitator can be found
View some tips on how to be a good facilitator here
Establish a set of agreed terms of reference, such as common goals and purpose. An example of this can be found here. Be clear about what you want to achieve. A brief list of aims can clarify why the group is being set up and provides a base from which to develop, and outline the role and purpose of the facilitator. For example, supporting parents in similar situations and/ or sharing information and exchanging ideas.
Set the day and time for the first meeting. Consider usage of polls to identify the most suitable time for as many people as possible and try to make this a regular time so that it becomes routine. Also, make sure to avoid times when parents are often busy – such as school pick up and drop off times. Use posters, noticeboards and any other internal communication platforms you may have. Some tips on promoting the group can be found below.
Template posters can be downloaded here.
Emphasise that all types of parents and prospective parents are welcome. In all communications, make it clear that anyone who is a parent or caring for a child is welcome in the group regardless of their circumstances or job role. Fathers especially can sometimes feel that these types of meetings are “not for them” and it is important to demonstrate that this isn’t the case through the use of images and language that includes fathers and, ideally, having a “Champion” who is a father.
Consider the location and staging of the meeting. (It could also be streamed on an online platform such as Skype for those unable to attend in person.) A comfortable setting and coffee/snacks is a good way to begin, people could take it in turn to bring these in. Make sure that the venue and time are accessible to all kinds of parents – so ensure that it is suitable for parents with disabilities. Whatever the setting, parents should feel free to speak openly. Having chairs placed in a circle, without any tables, helps encourage informality and open discussion. Topics for the first meeting should be carefully chosen to appeal to a broad range of parents, fathers, adoptive parents etc. Some ideas for topics for the first meetings can be found under the heading ‘Some tips for help the group along’, below.
Support the group to stay active and grow, by listening to how members feel and supporting any changes they may wish to make. Ideally members will generate momentum of their own, but the organisation can support this by continuing to promote the group, especially to new and returning staff members. If you do not have a “Champion” in place you could consider using an advocate from the group, to promote it within the organisation.
Promoting the parenting group
If you are trying to develop a parent support group that is as inclusive as possible, it is important that this message is conveyed through the organisation, both at the time it is set up, and on an ongoing basis.
Create a poster to advertise the first group meeting. A sample poster would include:
Raising awareness of parenting group: provide details of the first meeting, e.g. time, location (making sure that they are at accessible times and locations). Photos that reflect the workforce diversity of your organisation. Include pictures of dads, same sex couples, single parents etc.
Explaining the role of the parenting group: allowing parents to talk honestly with each other enables them to become empowered. Access to information about parenting policies early allows them to make informed decisions.
Ensuring everyone feels welcome: be aware of the importance of language, and explicitly state that all parents are welcome, mothers, fathers and other carers, and including single parents.
Link to online platform (if appropriate)
Download a poster template here.
Use social media to get people interested and participating (e.g. start up a hashtag to get a conversation started on Twitter, #ParentingGroup[Organisation Name]), send reminder emails to advertise each meeting. Use different variants of the initial poster to encourage diversity of attendees. Emphasise that dads are especially welcome. More suggestions on the use of social media can be found in the relevant section of the Communications module.
Enlist the help of senior leadership to join and show support for the group. Managers and supervisors could announce details of the group and promote it during meetings. A diverse range of parents, particularly dads, could be asked to come and talk to the group about their experiences. If your group is an external one, your organisation could suggest topics to cover in the meetings and encourage your employee members to raise issues and discuss their experiences.
Some tips for helping the group along
Establish terms of reference (click here for an example). With regards to group rules, for example, being on time for each meeting and ensuring that confidentiality of all information in meetings is guaranteed. Allow members to formulate and agree these in the first meeting. For an external group distribute the existing terms of reference and have a clear terms of reference for how your organisation is engaging with the established group.
Tip 2 (online platform)
Ask for someone to keep the information online updated and/or to coordinate live-streaming with additional IT/HR assistance, if necessary. This could be a volunteer or someone that has been a facilitator previously, updating the content as part of their job role.
Decide how often the group should meet: once a month is probably about right to begin with until the group establishes their terms of reference. Meetings should take place during the day to avoid clashing with childcare duties.
Sample activities for the parenting group
This can help build interest in a group that is just getting started. An business’ professional contacts may help groups to secure speakers more easily and build positive relationships. For an existing external group, your business may be able to provide an occasional webinar or suggest content for some of the sessions.
Consider parent-specific activities: discuss what it means to be a new parent; both in life and as a professional and normalise the issues and challenges of new parenthood. It can be particularly useful to have some sessions particularly talking about the experiences of fathers, single parents and adoptive parents as these parents are often not explicitly catered for or supported in other resources available to them. Tackle assumptions of work-life balance and discuss the boundaries of working as well as expectations from stakeholders. Of course, all parents and their situations are different, so adjust as necessary, and take advice from group members.
Deliver real-life practical information: make company polices explicit – talk about parental leave and flexible-working practices. Showcase a different organisational policy each meeting. Provide employment advice on careers and returning to work, and detail the childcare facilities (e.g. crèche), benefits/vouchers offered by your company
Further organisational interaction: wherever possible, demonstrate that the business’ support for parents extends beyond formal policies. Ensure you keep in touch with the group to maintain a dialogue and feed into the development of any future policies or initiatives.
Ongoing management of the parenting group
Encourage feedback. This group can enable employees to brainstorm and suggest changes to policies and support to help make your workplace more parent-friendly. These solutions can have a large impact on job satisfaction and greatly reduce turnover and absenteeism.
Design a leaflet of contacts: provide a list of contacts and resources which might be helpful to group members. This could include information on childcare options and funding, schools, local libraries etc.
Some resources to help the group grow
- Terms of reference template
- Downloadable poster templates
- How to set up an online space
- Tips on being a good group facilitator
You can find all of the materials mentioned in this and all other modules here.