This module of the Toolkit contains a set of simple, practical and readily-actionable techniques that can help you to develop, or enhance, an inclusive parenting group for your organisation.
Why is it important to support working fathers?
What is a parenting group?
The workplace can provide a great opportunity for parents, or parents-to-be and those caring for children to meet up to discuss concerns, meet people in a similar situation and share information in order to support their parenting experience. By facilitating a parenting group, either onsite or online, an organisation can support its employees, communicate and explain their leave and other parenting policies and identify “Champions” who can help spread this message to other parents.
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 to develop one that already exists. If your organisation already has a parenting group, consider approaching the coordinators to offer support and resources, and ask if there is anything that the employer can do to help.
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. The first point to consider when developing a parenting group is the extent to which your organisation wants to support and fund the group. For example, will you offer workload allocation time for the group’s co-ordinators and will you allow meetings to be held during working hours? 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.
If you are in an organisation that already has a number of networks in place, covering a wide range of subjects, consider approaching these as a useful way to promote the parenting group, as many members will be parents. 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, step parents, single parents and LGBT parents are included when talking about parenting groups.
Once an appropriate format has been found, whether face to face or online (or a combination of the two) the next step is to set up the group. For a face to face group it is useful to consider the following:
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 funding for resources for the group (such as refreshments and a budget for things such as printing and even outside speakers). Consider funding for the promotion of the parenting group to secure interest.
If possible, get senior management involvement or an executive sponsor in 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 or co-ordinator who can lead each meeting. With senior management support it may be possible that the individual gets workload allocation to help with this or that this is a rolling position to reduce the workload for individuals. Co-ordinators should be chosen based on experience of facilitating workshops or meetings, personal experience of parenthood and knowledge of the policies and issues surrounding parenting and work within the organisation. Getting an enthusiastic and engaged co-ordinator will play a huge part in the success of the group. In some instances, this could form part of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as a way of building on and developing personal skills such as presentation skills and experience coordinating or managing a group.
If the organisation is large enough, having multiple convenors will be a good way to spread the workload, and ensure continuity if staff move on. If possible, encourage fathers in particular into these roles. It may also be an idea to employ a ‘buddy system’ for parents within the organisation – ask group participants if they would be happy to act as buddies.
View some tips on how to be a good facilitator
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.
Larger organisations may even wish to consider setting up multiple parenting groups, perhaps based around the ages of children.
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. Ask HR to email all staff asking for parents to opt in. Ask Human Resources to access their database (if this is possible) to identify working-parents for better targeted communications. If possible, allow staff time away from their duties to attend. 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 or accessible via Skype Business for those unable to attend in person.) A comfortable setting and coffee/snacks is a good way to begin. 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 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 “Fatherhood Champion” in place you could consider using an advocate from the group, to promote it within the organisation.
Setting up an online parenting group
If face to face meetings aren’t practical for all staff, an online platform could be a way to ensure parents within the organisations are able to interact. The tips for setting up a face to face group (above) will still be of use, but some online specifics to consider are:
Select the most appropriate forum for your organisation – do you have an intranet or other online mechanism to allow staff to communicate and does your organisation have restrictions as to what platforms can be used for an online group? If not, consider using a free mechanism such as Facebook’s “Workplace” function (which can be used even if the member does not have a personal Facebook account). Ensure that the group is private, with only approved members able to see and leave posts. When naming the group, ensure it is inclusive.
As with a face to face group, identify a parenting group facilitator or coordinator who can moderate postings and maintain the site.
As well as allowing members to leave posts, ask questions and leave comments, an online group can host webinars and events. For example HR staff can be available at set times to explain the organisation’s policy on an issue such as Shared Parental Leave and to answer any questions employees may have. As with a face to face group, consideration should be given to the timing of webinars and events to avoid times when parents are often busy – such as school pick up and drop off times. Some ideas of topics for discussion can be found below.
Use the online space to ensure all parents have access to information about the organisational support that is available, alongside legal rights and wider parent related policy guidelines.
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 group’s publicity, 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)
Use social media to get people interested and participating (e.g. start up a hashtag to get a conversation started on Twitter, #ThisDadCan, #ParentingGroup[Organisation Name] etc.), use monthly newsletters and 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.
Some tips for helping the group along
Tip # 1
Establish terms of reference. 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.
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.
Tip #3 (face to face meeting)
Decide group size. While the parenting group can be as small as 2 or 3 people, 8-12 people is recommended. If more than 12 people attend this initial meeting, consider dividing up by availability (morning-evenings), location, or age range of children. You can also arrange meetings at times and with activities planned that are more attractive to fathers.
Decide how often the group should meet: once a month is especially effective if a group starts at the beginning of the school year. Other groups may decide to meet every other week or even weekly. Meetings should take place during the day to avoiding clashing with childcare duties.
Sample activities for the parenting group
This can help build interest in a group that is just getting started. An organisation’s professional contacts may help groups to secure speakers more easily and build positive relationships.
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. You may want to use models which may appeal to different employees, e.g. emotional barometer or the Yerkes-Dawson stress curve to gauge how new parents are feeling. 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.
Speakers: Invite speakers to meetings to either run a workshop on specific issues that affect their family life, e.g. educational psychologists to talk about developmental milestones; maternity/children’s nurse to provide first aid training and talk about recommended vaccinations, safeguarding issues, etc.; and/or speakers to talk about a service in the local area. Speakers of this nature may need to be offered as a formal event outside the parenting group format, but in association with it). Additionally, a HR representative, can discuss issues related to work-life balance and flexible working. Older parents who have experience of parenting whilst at the organisation make great guests. A unique way of engaging with fathers is to invite experts, dad-bloggers or insta-dads to your organisation to give talks or workshops this may incur a charge but could be highly beneficial to your organisation.
Further organisational interaction: Schedule regular check-ins between the group organisers and HR and senior management to work together to advocate for family-friendly policies and workplace support for parents and other caregivers.
Systemic corporate engagement: Wherever possible, show that the organisation’s support for parents extends beyond just policies. Again, what you do will depend on your own organisation, but for example you could organise a baby/ child fair – talk about what is needed, have demonstrations from local businesses, for example, car seat installation. Offer vouchers for employees to use to purchase items from these firms to help the local community. It may also be helpful for parents to have opportunities to share advice to others regarding parenting concerns around nurseries, managing work, breastfeeding at work etc.
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 information on company links with local libraries, schools and government facilities, as well as additional help from local support networks or charities, e.g. advice for caring for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).
Some resources to help the parenting 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.