Melissa Bowden is at a unique point in her career where she’s excelling within an international leadership role, while also dealing with competing care-related pressures.
Bowden is a mother to a ten-year-old son, the sister of an intellectually-disabled brother whom she is the legal guardian for, and supporting her 80-year-old mother. With her husband’s parents both passing away in the past couple of months, she also has direct and recent experience with bereavement.
As the Senior HR Director for Asia Pacific & Japan at Workday, she says it “takes a village” to make it all happen, especially as her current work involves frequent international trips. She notes the support of her family, as well as her employer.
“I tend to forget how good I have it,” Bowden says. I can do so much in the organisation because leadership allows for it. I know I can meet these demands outside of work,” Bowden says.
Bowden made the shift from executive search to in-house HR after returning from a stint working in the Middle East. She started her HR tech career in talent acquisition before expanding out to wider management roles, and took a position with Workday just prior to the pandemic, three and a half years ago.
Now she’s leading Workday’s evolution around family and well-being that have seen it become certified as a Family Friendly Workplace.
Bowden says the certification process was about more than achieving a “badge of honour”. Instead, it was a process that enabled them to look at their policies and benchmark what they provided against best practices. “There were some really good learnings through that. We learned that we have this small segment of baby boomers who may never have had parental leave but are at a point where they now have grandchildren, so we started thinking about things like grandparents leave, which we are reviewing now.”
Workday also addressed their paid parental leave policy, expanding it to 12 weeks, ensuring it was accessible for all new parents, and removing labels like ‘primary carer’. They rethought compassionate leave to broaden the reasons somebody could use it, and examined the support for domestic abuse leave.
Bowden says another key lesson in the certification process was that they needed to have the opportunity to promote examples of employees accessing the benefits they have. “It’s great to now see more of our leaders demonstrating that and being more vulnerable about what they need. Even with my story, I know it’s worth sharing and enabling other people to see the flexibility I access.”
Being an HR tech leader, Workday has skin in the game when it comes to promoting policies that support staff wellbeing and health.
They see firsthand – from their own tech – how the policies make a difference. Their Peakon employer listening tool sees a massive 98 per cent of their international employee base answering simple questions every Friday to give the organisation a real-time overview of health, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, and engagement across their workplace.
With these results, Bowden says they get an understanding of employee sentiment – as well as key risk areas – to know where they can immediately take action. She shares the example of seeing mental health issues rising during Covid, which saw them revamping the employee assistance program as a result. Workday has also hired an on-site counsellor who works out of their Singapore office, providing a confidential opportunity for people to engage with.
On initially becoming one of the 70 first employers to be certified as family-friendly, Workday Australia and New Zealand VP and managing director Jo-Anne Ruhl said they could see the direct benefits for the business in pursuing policies designed to support belonging and diversity across the business.
“We know it’s both the right thing to do, and that it also results in better business outcomes, including better employee engagement and more business innovation. We know our employees and customers will benefit from this initiative over the long term.”
Originally Published on Women’s Agenda