How BDO can support parents proactively

The parent journey, pillar of inclusive diversity

“In the parent journey, we look for solutions in order to support parents better and more proactively in the organisation of their work. Why? Because at BDO Belgium, we believe that,
by giving opportunities to talents and ideas in a more diverse and inclusive way, we – as an organisation – can provide stronger responses to the challenges of modern society.

“Our ID policy aims to remove barriers for everyone – not just the focus groups.”

Tessy Martens, Manager inclusieve diversiteit en ESG Services Lead BDO Belgium

In our previous issue of To The Point (01/2023), we discussed how BDO Belgium is working towards inclusive and diverse leadership. “The parent journey is an essential part of our Inclusive Diversity (ID) strategy and culture,” Tessy Martens starts off. She is the Inclusive Diversity Manager and ESG Services Lead at BDO. “The journey starts even before the first child arrives because many future parents are already concerned about whether they will be able to combine parenting with their job.” Internal research shows that colleagues in their mid-20s to mid-30s are leaving the company due to concerns about combining work and family life.

Supporting managers

For the roll-out of the parent journey, we worked closely with KU Leuven and with BDO Netherlands, which already has tons of experience. Tessy: “In order to properly understand the challenges and obstacles that working parents have to overcome, we organised an internal survey. We looked at the root causes and critical pitfalls in parent journeys. This enabled us to identify a wide range of stressors, including deadlines, not knowing about flexibility options, workload, the challenge of letting go of work, and productivity and budgetary pressures. What was also striking: the perception of childless workers or expecting parents in terms of the possibility of combining work with a family was significantly more negative than that of parents (perception vs. reality).”

To provide an effective response to these challenges specifically for the BDO context, we organised focus groups in which 20 colleagues provided input on the parent journey, the critical moments in that journey, and the priorities BDO must set to further support parents.

In order not to deter (future) parents from a career, it’s important to draw up a well-thought-out policy and to clearly inform everyone about BDO’s vision and about the possibilities and best practices that we offer as an organisation. This information can also come from fellow parents who share their experiences as ambassadors in tackling the challenges of combining work with parenting. “Without losing sight of the fact that every situation is very personal and that there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions.”

In addition, it is extremely important to support the managers in fulfilling their role as conversation partner in the parent journey. “There may be reluctance about how and when to start a conversation, what they should not ask for, which themes they can address and which ones they cannot… To encourage open dialogue, we develop so-called ‘conversation starters’ for (future) parents as well as for our managers.”

What have we already learned?

  • 1
    The importance of switching from reactive to proactive. It is essential to encourage an open culture to talk about parenting/planning and challenges.
  • 2
    Integrating work and life is a challenge for parents. An adapted and personal approach is needed to enable each person to organise him/herself as optimally as possible within their specific context.
  • 3
    Work is evolving. There is a trend towards (and a need for) more teleworking and making use of other programs that offer flexibility.
  • 4
    Lack of clarity (written procedures, guidelines, best practices and policies) is a serious obstacle to inclusive diversity. Information about maternity and paternity leave, parental leave, the financial impact as a self-employed person, the possibilities for flexibility within the organisation, and tips from other BDO parents must be part of this information flow.

Empathy and empowerment

According to Tessy, too many people still see inclusive diversity as a story of ‘they’ and ‘we’, discrimination and racism. Whereas it is really just about transcending unconscious benefits, removing barriers in the processes, and creating empathy and empowerment. “It’s essential to constantly bring the theme to everyone’s attention and to maintain it in a constructive manner. For example, today at BDO Belgium, we are talking about ‘career-loving parents’. We want to support our colleagues in finding a balance that works for them personally, to make equity part of our organisation, and to address anything that gets in the way of the evolution towards a DE&I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) organisation.”

Using the inclusion index, BDO measures, and closely follows the evolution of, inclusive diversity within BDO Belgium. “We are growing, but we are not there yet!” concludes Tessy.