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Power of the Parent 1: S4 Ep1: Fleur Cox – Rolls Royce

Power of the Parent 1: S4 Ep1: Fleur Cox – Rolls Royce

I’m thrilled to kick off series 4 with a focus on employer conversations, and first up the wonderful Fleur Cox, Co-chair of the Family and Carers Alliance for Rolls Royce.
This one is for you if you’re running an employee resource group, a parent support network or wanting to get started. There were so many incredible take aways! Fleur shared very generously about their experiences, highs and lows, plus a sprinkling of practical advice of getting started.
The insight into how to work alongside an HR function when you’re trying to make it a whole company approach, the role of an exec sponsor, facing into challenges around policy when you’re a global employer and her top tip of picking no more than three projects a year were all centre stage in this chat.

Episode Transcript

Charlotte Speak 00:06
Hello and welcome to Power of the Parent, the podcast. I’m your host, Charlotte Speak. I’m a level seven CMI accredited coach, a strength scope master practitioner, mental health first aider and talent consultant. And I’m also the face behind Power of the Parent. In this podcast, I’ll be speaking to parents in the workplace. Some of them are in traditionally employed roles, others are running their own businesses and we’re having conversations about life in general, insights about being a parent and having a career and exploring the strengths that parenting has awoken for people. We will talk about things like the value that they bring into the workplace, as well as my guests very generously sharing their personal stories and anecdotes about everything life can throw at us.

Charlotte Speak 00:52
Hello and welcome to the next episode of Power of the Parent, the podcast. This series, we are focusing a lot on conversations in the workplace and how employers are doing some immense things to support families and parents and carers. So today it seems very fitting that I am joined by Fleur Cox, who is the co-chair of the Family and Carers Alliance for Rolls Royce. And I am thrilled that she slid into my LinkedIn DMs to say that they would really love to chat because I know that it’s been a bit of a journey over the last few years for you and I think it’ll be a fantastic snapshot and insight into some of the things that go on behind the scenes with some of these conversations. So thank you so much for joining me, Fleur.

Fleur Cox 01:43
Thank you. Thank you for having us. Yes, so I am co-chair of the Family and Carers Alliance. We are one of several employee resource groups within Rolls Royce. We’re a large organisation and our remit is around supporting all of our employees, regardless of their family makeup. It’s a volunteer role that myself and my co-chair do alongside our day jobs, but one that we feel deeply passionate about and I think we feel it brings a lot of value to the organisation to our employees as well.

Charlotte Speak 02:14
Yeah, absolutely. I think if anybody’s listening out there, they will be like already on the edge of their seats to figure out like how do you make some of this work, particularly where it is a volunteer role because you know not everybody does have that dedicated resource in fact, I know very few organisations that actually have it as a dedicated resource and I think some of that is this is what then happens. People are looking for how do you practically make some of this stuff work when you are doing things alongside a day job, often juggling family lives yourself and yeah so it will be fantastic just to shed some light on some of that.

Fleur Cox 02:50
Yeah so the juggle is pretty immense sometimes so yeah it’s, for me, pretty full on day job. I also work compressed hours. So I do a full time week in four days that gives me Fridays off, which I love. Used to be with two of my children, but one’s just started school, so my littlest. So yes, that and work and parenthood. And it’s one thing that a lot of people that either run ERGs or are involved with diversity inclusion in any way you find challenging is how do you find the time, how do you find the headspace as well? It doesn’t matter what part of inclusion you’re looking at. Some of the topics that we’re covering could be quite emotive or can be quite challenging. So how do you make sure that you’re in the right headspace to be able to offer support? But in terms of where we came from, we are, I’d say, a relatively fledgling employee resource group. So there was a call, went out internally, about three years ago, a lady had been running, what wasn’t a formal employee resource group, but a networking group called the Working Parents Network. She had, you know, felt like she’d done her tenure, she’d done some great work so three of us actually started by taking it on, three parents, three mums, all with kind of different experience and we took it on in July 2019 with these grand visions and then 2020 happened.And what we wanted to do, I think we were quite clear from the beginning. We wanted to make sure that we actually supported more than working parents and this is not a slight against my own kin, but family and carers, it covers far more than just parents. And we wanted to make sure that we offered support for what actually arguably is probably the greatest percentage of our employees. I mean, we’re a huge company, tens of thousands of people. Most of those people have a family or caring responsibility. or involvement in some way. So we changed the name. First of all, we were family alliance and then we said, no, it needs to be the whole spectrum. So it’s family and carers alliance. Unfortunately, lost our number three co-chair. She went on to a new opportunity, so it was just myself and Caroline. 2019 was really about strategy and vision setting. Like, where do we want to take it? How do we want to support people? And then, yeah, 2020, like everyone else had to switch to virtual. But actually, do you know what? I think that drove up engagement. People, especially parents, were at home trying to work with the kids around. So actually, we did some quite good events on just opening our doors and saying, come and offload, come and chat, let’s talk through some of the challenges. And they were really valuable. We officially became what we call an employee resource group last year, literally days before I gave birth to my son. I did it at one point [Great timing.] Yeah, I did one point when I’m trying to kind of talk to our inclusion council about why we should be in ERG, think, I do feel like I’m in early labour here.

Charlotte Speak 06:03
You’ve got to get a real live example of what it is to be a parent in the workplace.

Fleur Cox 06:08
Yeah, virtually as well. So yeah, so we became an ERG and actually that’s been really, really good for us. I think it shows that the company takes us seriously. We take ourselves seriously. As I say, we’re two co-chairs. We have a committee of wonderful volunteers, again, all balancing family and work life. We have also, we have an exec sponsor as well. And I think if anyone’s listening that wants to know, and we can talk more about it, but wants to know about how do you kind of create that weight within the company? An exec sponsor is really, really key. So our exec sponsor actually sits on our exec leadership team, works for the CEO so that’s the level that the company is taking this.

Charlotte Speak 06:59
I think that’s a really key point to highlight straight away because that’s one of the big questions that I often get as well from people where they’re setting up some sort of resource group or network group. And they’re like, how do I engage a broader business? And how do you, where sometimes you don’t have the right seat at the table or the, or a seat at the table in the, in the most traditional sense. And exec sponsorship is something that I would, like consistently, I would say has worked for people that I’ve either worked with or just spoken to it in general conversations. In some instances, that sponsor doesn’t necessarily need to have family or caring responsibilities themselves. And then in other companies, they’re very visible in terms of how they talk about their family and caring responsibilities. And I think the thing that always comes across to me is that it isn’t about a one size fits all all beyond the fact you should really have an exec sponsor. After that, it’s about figuring out what’s right for your business, I think. Is that kind of something that you’ve experienced?

Fleur Cox 08:01
Yeah, definitely. I mean, we’re really fortunate Mark, our exec sponsor, he’s going to love I’ve given him a shout out. He he’s very much he understands what it what it means to be a working parent. But I agree, it doesn’t matter what kind of employee resource group you’re going to be an exec sponsor of. It’s having a really empathetic listening ear to be able to leverage their network as well to gain support, but also just be prepared to kind of walk in the ERG shoes as well. You know, if you’re not part of that lived experience, you need to be a really strong ally for it, because that’s how you can talk to others with. kind of the enthusiasm and the want to change because often that is what it is. It’s driving change that members of the ERG, you know, will be facing. So 100%, you know, getting the right exec sponsor and nurturing how you want that relationship to work is really important.

Charlotte Speak 09:07
Yeah. I think one of the other big questions that I get from people while we’re talking about big questions is, where do we start? So I think sometimes one of the things that people jump to immediately is to start looking externally. And they start almost doing that benchmarking straight away to say, what’s everybody else doing? How do they do it as an ERG? How do they do it for their policies? What are they, are they doing workshops? What is everybody else doing? And it immediately goes eyes out. And I’m all for benchmarking. I know that that’s important. However, it’s almost like we jump to see what other people are doing and what comparison is out there before we actually look internally and think, where is this need coming from? Like what are our families and carers saying and what are line managers struggling with and all that kind of thing. So I was just curious about where it all started for you with Rolls Royce. I know that you’ve had that kind of timeline of the last three years and with the lovely pandemic to pepper in the middle but was it something that kind of organically happened? Or was it a case of other people are doing things we really want to make sure that it’s a talent attraction tool? It’d be great to hear your insights about where the need started.

Fleur Cox 10:21
Yeah. So the need, I think initially was driven out of our own experience. I mean, I personally wanted when I kind of saw the internal advert for it, I had come off the back of my first maternity leave. I think I’d been back in the company about six months. I’d had a mixed experience. I had a job that I loved before I went on maternity leave. I came back to the same job, but subtly different. But I knew what I wanted to change and I thought well if that’s my experience how many other people are out there not talking about it because you know I think I think the pandemic actually has taught us to be more open and talk more but at that time 2019 we just anecdotal evidence of you know what friends and peers say, but who else out there is struggling with the same issues and I think kind of speaking on behalf of my co-chair I think that’s where she was coming from as well. It’s it’s a case of we can’t be the only ones that think x y and z needs to change and for me it was driven kind of around how we manage people going on and off maternity and parental and adoption leave and it’s amazing when you start talking all of these stories kind of come out of the woodwork, but I think the advice is in terms of where do you start? Start simple, start simple, I do think, do a bit of a voice of the employee, just talk to people, open up events. We did very unstructured events to start with. Just come and talk about, let’s give us a topic, returning after maternity leave, for example. And then you can start to see where there’s hotspots of issues or challenges that need to change. And I think the other piece of advice is be prepared that things aren’t going to change quickly. So we came from, towards the end of 2019, going, right, I think we really need to do a project on improving parental leave to only really now policy is fundamentally changing and we’ve done some great work in recent months with employee resource. And I’ll come on to how you work with HR. But I think where you start is start simple and just listen, just open your doors, because what that’ll allow you to do, and especially as a responsibility as a chair or co-chair is you need to be able to, as much as you would do with business objectives, at the end of one year and into the next, you need to set, right, what are we going to do within the next 12 months? We can’t go and boil the ocean. So we tend to do three key projects a year. And if we get to the end of the year and we’ve made significant headway with those, we’ll chalk it up as a success. So it kind of does organically build. You tend to get more structure. We’ve bought on a committee. We could do more, things like newsletters, things like more events. We started doing kind of face to face activities as well. But in terms of getting to the real changing in organization with things like making sure that all of our policies are family friendly, easy to use, easy to implement, it takes time because you’re, you know, quite a few people listening might be working with similar big organisations and these things don’t change quickly. So let that organic growth happen but you do need to drive it. There’s an element of, and that’s where the challenge around time constraints and day jobs comes in. It’s do what you can when you can because you’ve got to remember that you’re doing it for positive reasons.

Charlotte Speak 14:10
Yeah, absolutely. I love so much of what you’ve just covered off there and that kind of goal around having three things to go after in a year. I hear the word overwhelm quite a lot from chairs and co-chairs of employee resource groups, and I think that timeline side of things and being realistic with that is something that we’ve got to talk about a little bit more because that’s something that I don’t see celebrated, being able to take a bit of time and some of what we’re working on in these organisations. It’s it’s going to result in cultural change so that doesn’t just happen within 6 or 12 months, does it? It is a longer timeline and I think we’ve got to be comfortable with, and I was talking to somebody about this the other day, not everything holds a shortcut. Some things do just take the time that they take and no amount of checklists or top tips or follow these five steps, and then you’ll have this amazing thing set up. There’s always, there’s a process and humans that sit behind all of that and that’s where, I think sometimes the expectations of some of the groups that we, and that we put on ourselves can be massive, and then that’s what can sometimes in turn, you end up not starting anything because you think, oh my god, like, that’s got to go on the not today list or not this year list. So I think it’s really refreshing that you’ve shared that as an approach because I think that will really hit home with a lot of people.

Fleur Cox 15:39
Yeah, it’s, you’ve got to remember as well that when you start to go into the territory of making fundamental change, you will be drawing on parts of your organisation that actually that change then becomes part of their day job. It becomes part of their business objectives to deliver that. So it kind of goes from this volunteer organisation, this grassroots movement into, actually we’re fundamentally changing things here. We have to make sure that we’ve gone through the due diligence and the buy off needed. But I think it gets tough and you do have tough times. I mean, I’ve had it where you just think this is, this is like swimming uphill, this is, this is difficult and this is taking a lot longer. But then you do have breakthrough moments. I remember recently, one of our employee resource groups taking us through this letter that we are now going to send out to employees, we’re starting with maternity leave, but they’ll be same for paternity, same for adoption leave, really personalised letter welcoming them into the journey of becoming a parent or starting a family, but then laying out really nicely, like everything that they can expect, everything that they need to do, what is the process, what they can expect from their line manager. And you just see something like that. And I actually almost got slightly emotional when I saw it because I thought if I’d had that when I went on maternity leave, I may have felt quite different. And then that’s when you go, it really is worth it. It really is the times when you’re struggling to kind of get through just the day job, let alone anything else and you think that is totally, totally worth it. Or when someone comes to you after an event and goes, you’ve really helped me or this just talking about this subject has really helped me. We did one on postnatal depression. And the impact it had on dads, it was the dads that joined us on that session was just overwhelming. So you have to take those moments and you have to kind of let yourself sit in those moments of. We’re doing good stuff here. We’re doing really good stuff.

Charlotte Speak 17:49
Yeah, definitely. You really are. Something that you alluded to before was that feed-in to HR and how you work with that function. I’m a huge believer in these conversations are not an HR issue. They absolutely are part of the conversation, but in lots of organisations, they don’t have what you have, which is this very strong alliance that does force you, and is having whole company conversations. It can often absolutely fold just to an HR function, because it’s seen as the custodians of policy, and they should be the ones that are initiating any activity. So I’d be really interested to hear about how you do work with that function in particular, and how do you manage that dynamic, I suppose.

Fleur Cox 18:36
Yeah, I think it’s taken us a little while. I say it, as we’ve kind of grown as an ERG and cemented ourselves a bit more. It literally takes just to have one or two advocates within HR that really understand what you’re trying to do. And again, I think if you can link it back into their business objectives, it really, really helps, because it’s something that they can demonstrate is adding value in an HR sense, in a people sense. So as I say, our connections with employee resource lately have been invaluable. But I think for me, it’s around how do you just have those open conversations as well? Because really, you want to be, it depends on the size of an organization, but really you want to be talking to HR at all different levels as well, and that comes back into the stakeholder management, because I think it is really key, especially when you’re talking about our part of inclusion, when you’re talking about families and parents and carers, that’s when it does affect things like HR policy, when you’re talking about flexible working or parental leave or any other kind of leave, it does link into something that is in black and white and that can be quite contractual as well. So I think having say just one or two advocates within HR that understand that link can unlock a lot of stuff.

Charlotte Speak 20:08
Yeah, I think that’s really powerful and just distills down a little bit some of the, well, clears through, I should say, some of the myths that are sometimes held around whose responsibility is this. And you can absolutely hear that your approach is a whole business conversation and we’ve all got a part to play with that.

Fleur Cox 20:30
And I think as well, I think what we’re learning, especially recently and with kind of conversations with some of our other ERG colleagues is also how do you engage and communicate across the business. We’re an incredibly diverse business in terms of where we work, we’re incredibly global, but also we’ve got people working, you know, behind a laptop Monday to Friday, but we’ve got people doing hands on job on a shop floor that don’t have access to laptops, you know. So how do they get a newsletter? How do they engage with what ERGs are doing? How do they understand if there’s an event coming up that might, you know, be of interest? That’s one of the challenges we’re facing at the minute is, yes, we think broadly across the business, but how do we get to everybody is one of the challenges we’re finding at the minute. And also if, you know, if you are working for a global company, when it comes to things like parental leave, actually, government policy varies massively in the countries that you operate in. So we try not to be too UK centric, but it can be challenging because unless you are within that country and understand the ins and outs of employment law within that country, it can be quite challenging.

Charlotte Speak 21:54
Yeah, absolutely. And I guess that’s where there’s, again, that imbalance between talking about how do you help somebody and then almost like a separate strand of policy that you do absolutely have to allude to. But I suppose you then try not to make every activity or interaction or piece of comms policy centric, don’t you? So that you know that it’s there, but you kind of have to let that be localised and and that be communicated slightly differently, I guess. So yeah, it’s a challenge that I know that a few organisations really struggle with because there are some wildly different territories that they’re operating in and that can cause a lot of conflict, can’t it? If you’re talking about one amazing thing, if you think about some of the American owned companies, for example, you’ve got one heck of a different parental experience, for example, in America and the access to leave that they have and the costs of healthcare, it’s very, like you just, you can be so misaligned on tone if you’re talking to an organisation that’s got feet in both countries, like the UK and then America, for example.

Fleur Cox 23:02
And I think you’re right that the policy and the training as well that comes behind all of this stuff does almost need to sit in the background because it is about that human interaction. That is the real key thing that actually I don’t need you to be in the same country as me. I actually don’t need to understand your policy as a starting point. If you want to pick up the phone and just talk to me, that’s where we’ll start and then we’ll figure out how do we get you the in country support that you need?

Charlotte Speak 23:40
Yeah. So I can hear that kind of challenge there around being in a multi format business and also operating across different countries. What’s gone really well for you? Like what’s been some of the successes for the network?

Fleur Cox 23:55
I think getting getting our name out there as as a formal ERG was a great step because it also allowed us to learn across employee resource groups. As I say, we’ve got, as you can imagine, with a big company, we’ve got quite a few. And so there’s a lot of kind of cross pollination of ideas and sharing and some of these challenges that you may get against engagement or communications. How do we work as a collective? So I think how we kind of talk between employee resource groups is is really good. And it’s a great learning point. Back to the piece around, you know, fundamentally changing policy, that’s been a real positive because that’s going to impact a lot of people. I think as well, if anyone is going into wanting to be part of an ERG and chairing an ERG or any kind of network is the skills, the life skills and the kind of role skills that it gives you. I mean, it gives you leadership skills in absolute bucket lobes, you know, vision and purpose setting, kind of motivating a team, motivating a community. And then stakeholder management. So I think if anyone is kind of going into one of these ERGs or wanting to set one up, that that’s a real positive you can take away from it. And also, I think coming off the back of COVID, it’s really got everybody talking about what does flexible working mean and our ability to be able to facilitate those conversations as well to say don’t see flexible working is I’m in the office two days a week or I’m working from home three days a week. It is flexible working is all the flavours of job shares, of reduced hours, part time working, compressed weeks, nine day fortnights, whatever it is. So I think what we’ve found as a real positive is that more and more people are talking about that. I think we’ve probably still got a way to go with making sure that that understanding is across the whole board. I think that’s been a real positive in terms of, we are talking about flexible working properly in its very real sense. And I think as well, what we’ve done well as an organisation is we’ve done things like meet the board events. So our board will come in, talk about a number of topics, but they’ll have an opportunity to talk to all of the employee resource groups. And actually, that’s great because somebody that sits on the board of a, you know, a FTSE 100 company, your paths are unlikely to cross in a business setting. But an employee resource group, that level of engagement and that level of understanding and the board coming to us kind of open hearts, open minds has been a real positive.

Charlotte Speak 26:54
Sounds amazing. I’m sure there’s going to be a few people listen to this absolutely realigning their goals and objectives to their employee resource groups after that. So I’ve got one final question for you because I think I realise that it is a little bit of an impossible task to kind of distill everything down over the last few years of experiences for you. But if you could share either a reflection or a tip or a piece of advice, whatever you want to badge it as, but something if someone was about is about to start their journey right now, what’s the kind of the one takeaway that you’d really love for them to have?

Fleur Cox 27:34
I think the key takeaway is start small, because you will want to do everything because by the very nature of wanting to be involved in an inclusion story, is you fundamentally want to make change and you want to make change for the better. These things do take time and it’s okay to start small. It’s okay to have that organic growth. And really it is a journey, but it’s how do you bring others along on that journey because it doesn’t matter how small or large your organisation is. You can’t sail the ship alone. You need people, whether that’s advocates or allies or stakeholders or connections into HR, whatever it is, you can’t do it on your own. You have to allow it to take time. And I think it’s easy to reflect kind of three years on and see how far we’ve come. But that did take time. And I think when you’re trying to manage your own time in your own energy levels, even if you spend 10 minutes within a week doing something off your DNI to do list or your ERG to do list, it’s all incrementally adding up to making a change. So, you know, be patient with that process. I think as well is kind of absorb yourself in those topics of conversation. And I know we’ve talked about what we’ve done internally, but do kind of look at topics you want to talk about, learn about them, see what other companies are doing, and what reflection points can you bring back? But even if you just start with a couple of events that are kind of open topics, people can just come and talk. We’ve always maintained anything that we do virtually is never recorded, it’s fully confidential. Creating that safe space for employees is invaluable. And even if you just start with those conversations, you will find that you’re getting to see common threads of challenges and opportunities coming through that you can then, in time build into a vision and a strategy that you can go deliver over a period of time.

Charlotte Speak 30:03
Yeah, amazing insights. And like I said before, incredibly refreshing. And I think so many people will feel inspired and reassured as well with some of these conversations because, that’s ultimately what we’re trying to get to here and make things feel accessible and achievable. And you’ve absolutely done that with this conversation. So thank you so much for sharing your time and experience so generously, Fleur. It’s been fab to talk to you.

Fleur Cox 30:33
No, thank you very much. Yeah, and I hope some of this helps people.

Charlotte Speak 30:38
I’m 100% it will, I’m sure it will. You may get the floodgates open of people messaging you going can I just circle back on that point? But we’ll make sure that there are some boundaries in place when this episode goes out. So thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure and look forward to seeing where the alliance goes in the future.

Fleur Cox 30:58
Thank you so much.

Charlotte Speak 31:00
Bye -bye. Thanks very much for tuning in to Power of the Parent, the podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did, please rate the review and subscribe. And if you could tell all your friends about the podcast, that would be wonderful. If you’d like to get in touch, you can find me on Instagram, just search Power of the Parent. See you next time.

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