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By Hannah Cooper

Group HR Director, Leaders Romans Group


International Women's Day: the Importance of a Supportive Workplace

As the Group HR Director of LRG – an organisation of over 3,000 employees – and perhaps more importantly, as a parent, I am very much aware of the impact that a demanding career in property can have on family life.

I say ‘as a parent’ rather than ‘as a mother’ because neither the responsibility for looking after children nor the guilt experienced when we are not with them is limited to women. Increasingly, fathers and same-sex co-parents often work part-time or have equal responsibility when the inevitable childcare emergency occurs.

So, at LRG, the principles behind our HR policies are to support all parents, just as we are of other staff. Through our wide-ranging HR policies and initiatives, we aim to create a supportive environment that extends to all employees.


These initiatives are based on internal training, regular communications, an Employee Voice Group and an annual employee engagement survey. They aim to keep equality, diversity and inclusion at the forefront of everyone’s minds and ensure that all employees have the same opportunities, are treated fairly and feel safe enough to speak up should they witness or experience discrimination.

No fewer than 63% of our employees are women. Our HR policies are mindful of the fact that, across all industries, it remains the case that women in employment spend more time on unpaid childcare than employed men (85 minutes per day compared to 56 minutes per day, according to ONS data from March 2022).

Free of the guilt

Workplace structures, policies, and environments that allow women to thrive (such as paid parental leave for both parents) can go some way to rectifying this balance. Subsidising childcare for employees and ensuring more equitable career progression by engaging in career conversations earlier on and considering job shares for top roles can also help.

A supportive culture must underline such policies. Rightly or wrongly, when a working parent leaves the office at 5.00 pm to collect a child from nursery, they inevitably feel a sense of guilt for being the first to depart – regardless of whether they plan to return to their emails after their parental duties are over for the day. I am not sure that parents will ever be free of this guilt - just as we will never be free of the guilt that we can feel towards our child when we are working – but a supportive culture can go some way to reducing it.

So, we are pleased to take a proactive approach to building gender-equal workplaces that foster the talents and skills of everyone, from recruitment and salary structure to flexible working practices.

Last year, we launched a benefit to support parents undergoing fertility treatment. The benefit allows staff time off (unpaid for those with under three years of service; paid for those with more) to attend fertility appointments. For IVF treatment, LRG allows ten days for the person going through the treatment and five days for partner /co-parent. Support for those undertaking egg/embryo freezing, sperm freezing and surrogate is also available.

The policy is seen as an essential tool in enabling LRG’s workforce to support colleagues undergoing treatment. We recognise that everyone’s journey to starting a family is different and that undergoing fertility treatment can be challenging, both mentally and physically. The Fertility Journey policy aims to assist in creating an open and honest workplace which supports both parents.

Inevitable juggling act

We take a similar approach to flexible working. Despite the growth in flexible working, parents in many companies and sectors do not feel able to request it. Research cited in Workplace Insight in 2022 states that over 40 per cent of mothers of young children would fear discrimination should they ask about flexible working in a job interview.

We ensure this is not the case at LRG: currently, we facilitate 477 unique working patterns. For someone returning to work after an extended period – whether from maternity or paternity leave, or a sabbatical or other break – it’s essential they are supported in the working environment. Changes in projects, clients, team members, and sometimes a changed property market create challenges beyond reacclimatising to a work routine. Again, our policies aim to be supportive, trusting individuals when they face the inevitable juggling act and provide enough flexibility to suit a range of personality types. Communication is key in ensuring that these policies work for the individual as well as the company as a whole.

No fewer than 63% of LRG’s staff are female – all employed because they are the right person for the role rather than through any initiative to increase the female: male ratio. Acknowledging that women can still face additional pressures in the workplace, we have put in place several initiatives as part of a programme named EmpowerHER, which launches today. EmpowerHER will offer an internal resources hub providing a wealth of resources tailored to the needs and aspirations of female colleagues along with networking opportunities and events.

From a hard-headed deals-based environment to one that is more sympathetic to individuals’ needs and the ‘softer’ side of living—not to mention environmental and social priorities—the property industry is evolving and increasingly requires the softer skill sets that both men and women possess. But company culture needs to evolve to facilitate this.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to implement innovative policies at LRG. International Women’s Day is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the diversity our sector offers and the means through which this is achieved to benefit all employees.


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