Being a working parent is hard and was even more so during the corona pandemic. Laura Hield-Ryder, Head of Solar Operations at E.ON UK, founded a network for parents at the company, for which she received the 2020 E.ON Diversity Champion Award.
I have two children of my own and a step son. When I had my second child, I was determined to maintain the network I’d established at work, to stay in touch with what was going on, and to remain aware of emerging opportunities because after parental leave I wanted to try a new role. Well, even though I’d discussed all this with my line manager and senior leaders prior to going on leave, putting it into practice turned out to be very difficult. Returning to work was hard as well, and overall I encountered a lack of support and understanding. So in 2019, with the help of E.ON UK’s diversity and inclusion team, I set up a network for colleagues in similar situations. The aim was to provide support for parents, build understanding and empathy across the business, and reinforce the awareness of line managers, particularly those who weren’t themselves parents.
It was initially called the New Parent Network, and that was its focus. Back then, the HR guidelines for parent leave were hard to understand. We provided support to new parents and their supervisors so they both knew what to think about and clarify before a colleague went on leave. In 2020 we changed the name to the Parent Network to make it clear we welcome parents with children of any age. The network has grown to more than 200 colleagues. The feedback over the years has been inspiring. A typical comment is: “Without the Parent Network, I couldn’t have coped with the first three months after returning from maternity leave.”
Maternity, paternity, child care, work-life balance, school applications, adoption. Pretty much every aspect of parenting. Of course, attitudes toward parenting are continually evolving, so there are always new aspects being brought to light. We also talk about issues like mental health, racism, diversity, and LGBT+. The network is extremely inclusive and has parents from all backgrounds, so it serves as a forum for these conversations as well. We don’t necessarily find solutions. That’s not our role. But we can be a sounding board that passes information about emerging social issues to the HR team or senior leaders, who can then think about how the company might want to respond.
Without a doubt. My children, for example, were at home with me for ten weeks. Combining home office with home schooling was one of the most stressful times of my life. Colleagues across the network had similar experiences, and some were stretched to the very limit. Keeping the conversation going during lockdown provided crucial support for hundreds of parents across E.ON UK. In fact, in 2020 the Parent Network may have been more valuable than ever. So much was unprecedented, from the stressful (preparing to restart solar operations after the initial lockdown with constant distractions from young children for me and key members of my team) to the comic (having a Teams meeting temporarily commandeered by an insistent five-year-old who wants to show off her artwork). Being able to share these experiences was very comforting. In April, during the height of the first lockdown, E.ON CEO Johannes Teyssen called me to tell me I’d received the Diversity Champion Award. He has four children himself, and we talked about what a tough time it was for parents. Even though it was a conversation with the CEO of a huge corporation, it could’ve been between any two parents.
The network is a place where parents can post concerns and get a response from the group. But several network members and I decided it would also be useful to create an opportunity for colleagues – particularly those who may be uncomfortable posting to a large group or face special challenges – to get one-on-one support. So in 2020 we launched Parent Buddies, a team of eight local champions to whom colleagues can turn. We hope to expand the initiative in 2021. I’ve also wondered whether it would be possible to expand the Parent Network to E.ON units outside the United Kingdom. I think parents across E.ON would benefit from sharing experiences with those from other countries and cultures. How did parents at, say, E.ON Romania and E.ON Hungária deal with the lockdown? I’m sure we could learn from each other.
Definitely. For one thing, the different perspectives of other parents have enriched my interactions with my own family. A lot of information about Black Lives Matter was posted on the network in 2020. I shared it with my children and husband, which has brought a broader range of views into our lives. Also, the network’s very positive reception across E.ON UK has given me a confidence boost. In addition, listening to other people’s experiences has reminded me to be kind to myself. As parents we can be hard on ourselves, particularly during the lockdown. The network helps me remember that we’re all facing similar challenges.
From Southampton in southern England, Laura Hield-Ryder received a bachelor’s degree in marketing studies and modern languages (German, French) from the University of Salford in 2002. She began her professional career at RWE’s UK retail energy subsidiary before joining the marketing team of E.ON UK’s residential customer business in 2006. Here, Laura has held a variety of management positions, most recently as head of sales development. In January 2020 she moved to E.ON UK’s Solar and Storage unit in Nottingham, where she serves as Head of Solar Operations. Laura, who is training for her first sprint-distance triathlon and has started learning Italian during lockdown, lives with her family in Nottingham.