Nicki Seignot - Tackling Discrimination Related to Maternity Leave

#YesSheCan is enthralled to feature Nicki Seignot for various reasons. Like so many other women, Nicki took a career break to focus on her family and in doing so decided the time was right to start her own business where she could work flexibly, pursue her passion as a coach AND be there for the family.


The difficulty of balancing these things, all of the utmost importance for her, motivated Nicki to make a difference. She gained a Masters Degree in Coaching and Mentoring before adapting her career to her needs. For Nicki, this meant starting her own coaching consultancy with the focus on mentoring new parents in developing their careers; something essential within effective Talent Management and Diversity and Inclusion strategies.

In our latest feature, we interview Nicki and ask her about why she is so committed to this cause, what she’s doing to change perceptions for the better and how she manages her time as a business owner and parent.


What has to change and why I do what I do!

In February 2018 the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s research accused British employers of ‘living in the dark ages’ with ‘worrying attitudes’ and ‘unlawful behaviour when it comes to recruiting women’. They estimate maternity discrimination results in 54000 women losing their job each year in the UK.


Where career meets parenthood, there continues to be a gaping hole in many employer’s approaches to talent management. These employees were the future once. They were (are) the graduates, the high potentials, the experts, the fast track talent – yet the mix of parenthood and continuation of career is somehow incompatible for too many. The losers are the individuals and the organisations.


At The Parent Mentor, we work with businesses and organisations to bridge the gap between policy and experience by extending their investment in talent through this critical time, supporting employees personally and professionally as they make the transition to working parenthood. Central to this is enabling individuals to embrace their new identity, to set them up for a smooth return to work and, when ready, to get their career on track.


For organisations that strive to make a difference, I believe the rewards will be evident in the short term, with more engaged and effective employees, and longer term, with a stronger, more balanced pipeline which delivers talent for the future success of the business.


Why discrimination related to working parents is such a problem

The assumption that to have a meaningful career you have to work full time and then some. We all know there are times where you have to step up to deliver on big projects or activities, but presenteeism and long hours cultures are a serious issue. My conversations with many working parents indicate a recurrent theme. Irrespective of any policy provision, vast numbers of talented people feel trapped; they want to do great work while still being able to prioritise family and a life outside, but can’t get the flexibility they need nor a part-time role operating at a senior level. The bottom line seems to be; return at a lower level, or compromise family for career and full-time work.


That point in a career where work meets parenthood can be an isolating time and impact the choices people make and what they believe is possible. Many employers have policies around maternity and parenting, but the policies are only half of the story. It is the individual experience of those policies in practice which is the decider; the line manager who takes time to ask, to enquire, to keep in touch, who doesn’t make assumptions about someone’s return to work choices, who continues to believe in their potential; having a mentor – someone off line as a trusted means of support. Parental mentoring programmes connect parents-to-be with fellow working parents who’ve made the journey back to work themselves and who understand the unique culture and context of the organisation from within. With appropriate preparation, these off-line relationships can offer timely 1-1 support and a safe conversation space.


Parenting and Work Life Balance

Juggling career and parenting is an ongoing game where you live with competing priorities. I’ve learned to let go of perfection to try and give my best every day knowing some days I win, other days it’s a struggle and something has to give. As one mum said to meYou’re just one Calpol sachet away from a crisis.’ Contingency is a must!


Working for myself, I’ve had to become really disciplined in my approach to diary management. ‘I protect space for the big stuff – business projects, coaching and events, factoring in preparation time well ahead so I’m absolutely ready to deliver. The big stuff also means I make time for physical fitness and wellbeing, seeing friends and getting into the gym four times a week (oh yes!). Desk days and CPD (continuous professional development) are essential and part of business as usual. Working from home means I have zero commute time, which is a privilege, though it can be a little too handy. I confess to sliding into the office at weekends for a quick half an hour that too easily turns into 2 or 3..’


Why Diversity in the Workplace is so Important

The case is proven. McKinsey have been researching this for a number of years. Businesses who are more diverse, deliver better results – that’s it.


McKinsey’s 2007 report ‘Women Matter’ identified ‘a positive relationship between corporate performance and the elevated presence of women in the workplace in several Western European countries, including the UK, France, and Germany’’.


‘Women Matter’ 2012 benchmarked the diversity programmes of 235 European companies indicating the best-performing companies had a ‘critical mass of initiatives’ in place. 63% of companies had at least 20 different initiatives in place as part of their gender diversity programmes.


‘Diversity Matters’ (2015) expanded the research analysing 366 public companies across a range of industries in the UK, Canada, the US, and Latin America and found a ‘statistically significant relationship between a more diverse leadership team and better financial performance. The companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns that were above their national industry median.


Most recently, ‘Delivering through Diversity’ (2018) researched over 1000 companies across 12 countries and found ‘Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on exec teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability. In addition, they found Companies in the top quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on their executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability’


My advice to young females

Don’t limit yourself by others’ opinions. Stay in the driving seat. Surround yourself by people who inspire you, who remind you of what you do well and to do more of that!


Truth is you have to work strategically, to have a clear vision of what you want (you’ll get somewhere, but is it where you want to be?) and have people and mentors alongside you who can offer support and challenge in equal measure.


Build a career around those things that give you energy. Don’t let anyone convince you that your career is decided by your GCSE choices. There is so much you’ve yet to discover. I’ve reached my 50s and found them to be the most creative, productive time of my career to date! You will NEVER stop learning.


People who inspire me

Joeli Brierley – founder of Pregnant Then Screwed for her tireless campaigning, taking an idea and always thinking BIG. She offers no small ambition – to end maternity discrimination in the workplace for good.


David Clutterbuck - international coach and author, mentored me through publication of my first business book ‘Mentoring New Parents at Work’. This would not have been possible without his support. Having written over 70 books, he knows what he’s talking about!

Rebecca Fielding – rocket fuelled entrepreneur and MD of Grad Consult an award winning management consultancy in Sheffield. She never stops innovating and is a constant source of inspiration and challenge. I credit her with giving me the courage to kick-start this chapter in my career.


David Megginson is an Emeritus Professor at Sheffield Hallam University and co-founder of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. A practicing quaker, he brings elegant curiosity and a generosity of spirit to his conversations. My life and coaching practice are richer for knowing him.


If you've been impressed by the drive and passion that Nicki has then make sure to check out our feature on Esther Akpov, founder of the SheEO alliance.

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