New Women's Network program aims to create more supportive workplaces

A new program to encourage more supportive work environments on the Island being offered by the Women's Network P.E.I. will soon begin.

The Ignite Program will be free, and is an opportunity for employers to assess themselves to identify areas that may create a more supportive work environment including parental leave policies and flexible schedules, says the network's executive director Jillian Kilfoil.

"What are they currently offering in terms of supportive workplaces, in terms of team cohesion, in terms of health and safety?" she said in an interview wtih CBC Radio: Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

Kilfoil said the assessment is about 30 pages and allows employers to look at their management style.

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"Once the employer has completed the self assessment we will work them to develop a strategic plan of how they want to implement that work in their own context," Kilfoil said. 

Isabella Zavarise/CBC

Kilfoil said a supportive workplace might look different from company to company, but should have clear policies that support a work-life balance and keep lines of communication open among staff so everyone knows their rights and benefits.

"Of course for Women's Network, we are a feminist organization and so having really strong parental leave policies, having supports for parents, things like that are really important because of our values framework — that could look different in different organizations," she said.

It was child care that prompted the program: Kilfoil said her organization has been working on a three-year child-care project on the Island.

"What we really identified as a result of that project is that a lot of parents really struggle in the return to work," she said.

Sometimes parents find it difficult to figure out what supports are available to them as new parents, Kilfoil said. 

She said the Ignite self-assessment is an opportunity to start conversations about things such as more flexible hours at work.

"In a lot of jurisdictions we see that the nine-to-five being at the office all the time isn't always working for people," Kilfoil said.

Adjusting management style

Kilfoil said employers need to step away from micromanagement and focus on results-based management.

"It's really about shifting our mind and not thinking that workers are just there to serve the employer in the business or the organization," Kilfoil said.

Employers who are not willing to make adjustments might be missing out on retaining workers, she said. 

"A little bit of adjustment and a little bit of support to workers really creates a fidelity and a loyalty that can have a huge return on investment for any employer," Kilfoil said.

The program will be available online and in print in February and will also be available in French.

"If you're a new leader, if you're an employer or supervisor for the first time this could be a really great way to orient yourself to that new position," Kilfoil said.

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