“People are at the heart of everything we do and ultimately it’s our people who make us who we are as a culture and as a business,” says Anathea Ruys, CEO of media agency UM.
“Since the onset of Covid, there has been a frightening increase in the number of working parents resigning from their jobs or reducing paid hours and it’s a wake-up call for all employers. That’s why it is imperative we make UM the best workplace it can be, especially for families.”
In this fireside chat, Claire Monteilh, Director of People and Wellbeing at UM sat down with Anathea Ruys and together they explain the importance of UM’s family workplace initiatives and why they continue to look for new ways to futureproof UM and make it the best workplace it can be.
Claire: Why is UM committed to be a family friendly workplace?
Anathea: For much of my career I have worked in environments with a lot of parents – in particular mothers – who felt the need to diminish the parenting side of their lives or overly demonstrate that they wouldn’t let parenting interfere with their work.
I have seen women leave the media industry because they felt it wasn’t the right industry for them to stay in as working parents, it was too fast-paced, the hours were too long or the expectations were too high when it came to balancing work and non-work pressures.
Over my career I have had so many conversations with women who have told me they don’t plan on accepting a promotion, new job or exciting project because they were planning on having a baby in the next year and it wouldn’t be fair on the business or client. These are all really poor experiences for the individuals but also have a negative impact on business.
Personally I feel I have benefited from having a family – my time management skills have improved (a bit!!); I have learned to manage stress better; and I feel I am a much more empathetic leader as a result of being a parent. And I imagine lots of other people feel the same.
I want the organisation I lead to benefit from those skill sets and approaches. I want to attract and retain people who feel they can be both a better parent and a better employee by working at UM. To do that we need to be genuinely family friendly. We need to not just have policies in place that outline the way we support and benefit parents, but we need to have actions and behaviours that bring this to life and demonstrate to our teams that we believe in this. And most importantly we need to understand what “family” means. This is not only for parents. This is for family in every sense of the word and hopefully will have a positive impact either now or in the future on our whole team.
Claire: Why was the creation of the UM Parenting Group important to you?
Anathea: Firstly, the fact that it was conceived by our people is critical. Community is critical to every one of us, especially as we navigate situations we have not experienced before. And that is exactly what parenthood is! Having a group where experiences can be shared, explored and, for want of a better word, “normalised” is a critical way to help people feel less alone.
Sometimes hearing that another person has had the same experience is all you need to feel like things are ok, so I see the group as a powerful way of providing that community. I also think it is a great opportunity to show parenting at different stages. We have heard from people who have babies right up to me talking about my 18 and 15 year-old children. Naturally the experiences are different, but they are also reassuringly similar. It is also a space to share facets of parenting that are challenging and in many cases heartbreaking. We know there are people in our business who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility. I am proud that we can have conversations around these difficult and heart-breaking experiences that might provide some comfort. Or at the very least help people, if they feel able to and want to, feel comfortable to have conversations about what they are going through.
I certainly wish that 19 years ago, when I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks, that I would have felt able to share what I was going through with my workmates. Grieving in silence felt like I was denying the hope that I had lost.
I am also delighted that our Parenting Group comprises new parents, older parents and people who might become parents or want to understand more about parenting. It is this inclusivity I would love to see extend to other community groups across our business.
Claire: What do you believe the impact it is having on the workplace culture?
Anathea: The feedback has been very positive with large numbers attending each of the sharing sessions and anecdotal responses saying how informative the sessions are.
They also provide an opportunity for us to know more about each other. I have loved having people ask about my family with more knowledge of who they are since my sharing session, and I love knowing more about the families of others who have shared. It helps to connect us. Businesses talk a lot about feeling confident and happy to bring your whole self to the office and this is a way for us to live and model that. Our workplace is a community and like all communities the more we share and learn from each other the more we thrive.
Claire: What are some of the business benefits you see from being a family inclusive organisation?
Anathea: There are a multitude of business benefits by being family inclusive. First and foremost, the ability to retain great talent who feel valued and able to contribute at all stages of parenting is critical. Every time we need to replace a role with a new person we lose time, money and IP so it is critical that we retain our talent.
Attracting talent is also crucial, and being actively and genuinely family inclusive provides a great way for us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors – even more so when the people doing the talking are not our leadership team but people who have experienced our family friendly policies and actions.
Our industry has a reputation of lagging in diversity. Historically we have hired people from similar backgrounds, similar experience, similar age. By being family flexible and inclusive we will attract and retain a rich, diverse complement of people which in turn will make us able to do our jobs better – in order to connect brands with people in meaningful ways we need to reflect back our society.
UM Australia were officially certified as a Family Inclusive Workplace on Wednesday 18th May 2022 during National Families Week. Their ongoing commitment to support working families through co-creating an impactful family friendly culture is inspiring as it comes from the heart of the people within the organisation.
A huge thank you to Claire Monteilh and Anathea Ruys for sharing UM’s story so far.