The Children's Trust is a charity based in Surrey that provides specialist care for severely disabled children. Eighty-five per cent of its 540 employees are female, so it has always aimed to provide flexible working arrangements for mothers. It has an on-site nursery, an occupational nurse who works with pregnant employees, enhanced maternity pay and flexible working options; later this year it will also roll out a new Family Support Programme.
Julia Mixter, who joined the trust as HR director 18 months ago, believes this approach has helped the charity to attract and retain staff. "Many women are very skilled and able - but if you don't offer flexible working, that skill is lost from the labour force," she says. "Women have a great deal to offer after maternity. Some of the benefits we offer are not cheap, but they are essential because we have such a large number of young female care staff. The cost of constantly recruiting and training new people would be much higher.
"It's also about engagement," she says. "If an employer can meet my needs, I will want to give more back."
The trust nursery, which dates back to the days when the charity was a branch of the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and is now run by Co-operative Childcare, offers a 35 per cent discount for staff.
Pregnant employees have access to an on-site nurse, and those with young children can get childcare vouchers and subsidised access to local summer camps.
The new Family Support Programme will provide pregnant staff with a dedicated HR contact throughout their pregnancies and maternity leave. "Before the birth we will offer them information about local NCT classes, information services and websites, and there will be meetings to talk about their options when coming back to work," says Mixter.
The charity will also offer support to line managers to help them establish satisfactory flexible working arrangements. Staff will be invited to quarterly reviews to support their return to work, and the charity plans regularly to review its statistics on retention and promotion to identify any issues.
Mixter has two children herself and has worked both full and part time since becoming a mother. She accepts that it is easier for the Children's Trust than for charities in other cause areas to provide support for mothers, but she believes all organisations have a responsibility to look after staff during and after pregnancy.
"The nursery makes life easier for us, but any employer can offer support and information," she says. "Women often leave it later to have children these days. They have spent their whole lives immersed in the world of work, and to suddenly go off and spend a lot of time alone without any support can be mind-blowing.
"We try to prepare people - it's not just about work; it's about offering care and support. Any organisation can do it."