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As the father of three young children, including twins,
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Work+Family Summary - 2016 in Review


In this month's summary, Ben Black looks at the good, the bad and the villainous news from the world of work and family in 2016


Female leadership

This, again, dominated the headlines. The Davies-Cranfield double act finished its work and was replaced by the slightly more difficult to say Hampton-Alexander Review. Davies has been successful, with FTSE firms now having a good smattering of female directors, and, even if most of them are non-execs, at least it largely achieved its aims. Hampton-Alexander is much more ambitious. It looks at the FTSE 350 and is more concerned with executive directors and senior managers. It's a much better aim and it's going to be a much longer journey.

Elsewhere, Hillary obviously didn't become the most powerful woman in the world, but female leaders did step up to the plate at Whitbread (Alison Brittain), GSK (Emma Walmsley), and, most famously of course, Theresa May for UK PLC. Who said Brexit wouldn't have a silver lining?

The Women's Business Council gently overtook the 30% Club as the most powerful industry voice pushing for more gender diverse leadership. And, thankfully, the debate moved on. If we really want talent rather than gender to be the deciding factor in career success, then it's not just about business. It's also about telling boys that it's OK to be a carer.

That brings me neatly onto Shared Parental Leave. More men taking it up is good all round - good to prove the business case for flexible working, good for talented mothers, and good for families as well. Sadly, as our findings demonstrated, take-up has been very low to date. Take-up will increase eventually - just more slowly than we first dared hope.

Flexible working

It's a new world we live in. Capitalism, European ideals, globalisation, and democracy all went backwards a bit in 2016. That impacts the way people think about careers. Life is a journey, not a destination, so you might as well enjoy it.

The ability to work flexibly, to be judged on outputs rather than inputs, and to spend less time commuting, are all fundamental to the way more and more of us prioritise that thing called work-life balance. And more and more businesses are getting it.

Flexible working in good businesses is brilliant for everyone - even the habitually surly facilities manager is starting to enjoy the side-effects. Our research with Hydrogen highlighted just how high up the priority list flexibility has risen, with a majority of people now willing to forego salary for a better work-life. It is a prize worth fighting for.


Plenty of noise in the childcare industry, but not much movement. Childcare vouchers are still almost definitely going, but the new tax free childcare replacement roll-out is looking pretty shambolic.

That's still a lot better than the mayhem being caused by the intro of 30 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds. It's unworkable as planned and doesn't actually help parents back to work. Despite all that, the childcare market has rubbed along reasonably well.

Backup Care

Backup Care is a great benefit because you really can see the ROI in black and white - people are genuinely working when otherwise they wouldn't be. It will gradually become all about the tech, and the matching of demand and supply. So when childcare vouchers finally disappear, it will become a real contender for how employees can demonstrate their support for their working parents and carers.

Working carers

If the picture around childcare is OK, the outlook for working carers remains as bleak as ever. There is simply just not enough money in the system, and employers will find an ever-increasing trickle of talented, loyal people leaving because there is literally no state support for their elderly loved ones.

It's a catastrophe in the making. Yes, some great employers - PWC, Shell and P&G, for example - are starting to do more, but it needs a big brave move from the Govt. very very soon.

Winners and losers

Let's have Helena Button as our token villain of 2016, just ahead of those anachronistic dinosaurs from Muirfield. She's the notorious Sheffield head teacher who told her staff, in no uncertain terms, not to get pregnant. And as for heroes, I'm plumping for Nicola Thorp who famously took a stance about being ordered to wear high heels.

Ben Black, My Family Care


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