HOW TO SUPPORT, MOTIVATE, AND RETAIN PARENTS IN THE WORKPLACE WITH GREER VAN DYCK
Organizational coach Greer Van Dyck joins Roy to explore how organizations can better support, motivate, and retain people throughout their parenthood journey.
Maintaining a full time job and starting a family presents unique challenges – along with an opportunity for organizations to more effectively support their employees in the process. Through her coaching business, Windrose, Greer works with management and leadership teams to foster psychological safety, transparency, and support for employees in all stages of parenthood. In her own words, Greer is “helping change the way organizations lead.”
- Greer’s approach to supporting clients (2:36)
- Challenges, failure points, and risks organizations run into around parenthood (4:38)
- When leaders should look for outside support (7:29)
- How to address troubling workplace statistics related to parents and parental benefits (9:51)
- The importance of communicating needs in order to affect organizational change (13:19)
- How somebody might initiate a dialogue with their company around parental support (15:36)
- How candidates can evaluate parental support within an organization (16:45)
- Incorporating and communicating parental support within the recruitment process (18:52)
- Initial steps to make your company more parent friendly (19:57)
SHOW TRANSCRIPT – GREER VAN DYCK
[00:00:00] Roy Notowitz: Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best executive hiring advice and insights. I’m Roy Notowitz, founder and CEO of Noto Group Executive Search. You can learn more about us at notogroup.com. We’re doing things a bit differently on this episode. I want to spend some time talking about a topic that’s vital to any organization’s health and success — and that is: how to support parents in the workplace.
[00:00:33] Roy Notowitz: To dig into this, I sat down with Greer Van Dyck. She’s the founder of Windrose Coaching and Speaking, where she works with organizations to foster psychological safety, transparency, and a people-first environment. She’s particularly passionate about supporting employees as they navigate parenthood and balance their career aspirations while maintaining momentum in the business world.
[00:00:56] Roy Notowitz: Greer, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast today. This is an interesting and unique topic for us, and I’m really excited to have this conversation.
[00:01:06] Greer Van Dyck: As am I. Yeah, thank you for having me.
[00:01:08] Roy Notowitz: So, let’s start with your career path leading up to the work that you’re doing today.
[00:01:13] Greer Van Dyck: My formal career started out in nursing; however, halfway through nursing school, I realized that it really wasn’t where I wanted to be. But I did finish nursing school, and I’m so glad that I did, because it brought me to my love of mental health. Ended up pursuing a master’s in counseling and, you know, I’ve always been passionate and committed to outdoor industry and outdoor recreation, and so I actually felt this calling at around 2018 of, you know, “Man, it’s time to go back.” And really didn’t want to play the role of a therapist anymore, at that point. I was very much interested and passionate about the role of the coach. I’m very well suited for dialogues of, “Where are you now?
[00:01:52] Greer Van Dyck: Where do you want to be? And what’s in the way?” As opposed to, “Let’s focus and heal your past to get you to the possibility of you being present in your life.” And so, I had a long windy road to get to where I am right now, and, right now, I run a coaching and consulting business called Windrose. And a windrose is also known as a compass rose, and it’s the part of the compass that is responsible for directing true north. And truly, that’s at the heart of what I do with my work. I support individuals and teams to instill bravery both in mindset and behavior at work. And, in addition to supporting management and leadership teams as to what we’re speaking about today, I also work specifically with parents in the workplace.
[00:02:31] Roy Notowitz: Interesting.
[00:02:31] Greer Van Dyck: I’m passionate about psychological safety. It’s a core tenet of my work.
[00:02:35] Roy Notowitz: That’s awesome. So tell us more about your business and how you support clients.
[00:02:40] Greer Van Dyck: So I support management and leadership teams. I’m passionate about organizational health, and it’s brought me to have such a conviction for the work that I do now to watch how organizations relate to changing environments, changing leadership, changes in the world around us, and it really gave me a lot of passion and motivation for supporting people at the individual and team level to navigate change. So, I support my clients through a combination of trainings, and workshops, and close relationships with HR/People & Culture to identify, “What are the core needs,” right? And, honestly, it typically starts with psychological safety. So, trust and respect, effective one on ones, difficult conversations, leading with transparency and vulnerability. A lot of the work that I do to support clients includes, as I mentioned, workshops, trainings, and coaching.
[00:03:36] Roy Notowitz: How did you begin doing the work that supports parents in the workplace?
[00:03:42] Greer Van Dyck: So supporting parents in the workplace was not on my radar until I began the process of wanting to become a parent, being pregnant, having our daughter.
[00:03:54] Greer Van Dyck: So going through those experiences, navigating that while trying to maintain a full time job was really hard. And I didn’t personally feel like the kind of support and availability that I was looking for from a leadership level, or even from a manager supervisor level — and what I really mean from that is mental health, emotional health — so that I could focus at work, was really present.
[00:04:17] Greer Van Dyck: So that was a key indicator for me. And frankly, having my child, really not taking any time off, and coming back to work after having our child, and the re-entry into the workplace — all of those experiences have created a big passion for me in supporting parents in the workplace.
[00:04:37] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. So what do you see as the challenges, failure points, hurdles, or risks that face companies as it relates to parents, especially women, in the workforce?
[00:04:48] Greer Van Dyck: You know, I feel like, in this day and age, there’s a lot of pressure on companies to be competitive with parental benefits. And it seems like there’s just kind of this one-upping thing happening. So I think that there’s pressure with regards to that. And so, I know that that informs how companies are relating to this, first and foremost. I think that companies are fighting to do better, be better, than others. So constant conversation of “What do we need to pay for? How do we need to make ourselves more appealing for candidates?”
[00:05:15] Greer Van Dyck: So it feels kind of like a high stakes environment. I recently read a study through Carrot Fertility that shared 72 percent of people stay at a company longer if they have competitive fertility benefits. I think that companies feel they’re really doing their due diligence by paying for IVF, giving a long maternity leave, providing pumping rooms, but, there’s a lack of foresight.
[00:05:39] Greer Van Dyck: And the truth of the matter is that pregnancy, maternity leave, return to work — they not only impact the individual, but they impact the people around her as well. And so the risks are around retention. Like, this is such a moving target for companies to try and keep up with what people need at any given moment.
[00:05:55] Greer Van Dyck: And it’s not lost on you, I’m sure, in your line of work, that it’s 500 to 700 percent of someone’s annual salary to recruit, hire, train, onboard someone new, right? So, companies are extremely motivated by retention.
[00:06:09] Roy Notowitz: How do you approach the first three to six months when working with a new client? What are the things that you focus in on?
[00:06:15] Greer Van Dyck: High level is that the first two weeks involve wayfinding. They involve exploration to identify key areas of support, as well as the development of our action plan, which I do with every client, whether it’s at the individual or team level. The second two weeks typically involve individual coaching with the core person or people involved.
[00:06:36] Greer Van Dyck: The second month centers around mindset. So, I really do believe that in order for meaningful, consistent, sustained behavior change, you’ve got to focus on mindset first because it is our mindset that informs our behavior — it informs how we show up. And then the third and fourth months, they hone in on that tactical skill development.
[00:06:56] Greer Van Dyck: So, for the individual, it might be advocating for needing more time for extra IVF appointments. At the team level, it might mean, “How are we dispersing responsibilities for this individual who’s about to go on parental leave?” So that tactical skill development is really important, and you want to make sure that there is alignment.
[00:07:15] Greer Van Dyck: And then the fifth and sixth months, they hone in on the skill integration. So, all this to say, engagements ebb and flow based on pace, and progress, and individual versus team, but that’s the general framework.
[00:07:29] Roy Notowitz: How does a company know that they even need support? Or what would be the trigger for them to contact you proactively, versus just letting things happen the way they have been happening? And just trying to be more supportive in general.
[00:07:44] Greer Van Dyck: So, I mean, I would say, first and foremost, is surveying an employee base and asking some of these specific questions to them with regards to their experiences of how the company does or doesn’t support the parental needs, right? The infertility needs, the pregnancy needs, the parental leave needs, the return to work needs.
[00:08:03] Greer Van Dyck: So I think one of the best ways that you can try to get in front of something is to assess the current landscape. The truth of the matter is that close to 50 percent of women are leaving the workforce after becoming parents due to lack of support. So I’d say that paying attention to some of those statistics is helpful also to see what you need to get in front of.
[00:08:22] Greer Van Dyck: And, I would say, reaching out and engaging with a consultant who steeps in this work can also be a great way to get in front of it.
[00:08:30] Roy Notowitz: To what extent does this work show a return on investment? You talked a little bit about retention, and turnover, and sort of the statistics. How does it help companies recruit and engage and motivate and retain top talent?
[00:08:43] Greer Van Dyck: Yeah. So some examples of companies that I have worked with utilizing this kind of support is you are seeing lower percentages of women who are leaving the workplace. So, you’re seeing retention statistics, so that’s definitely a measure that I use to show return on investment. I would say that there are definitely surveys that I encourage companies to engage in with their employee base to measure fulfillment, engagement, motivation, skill integration, right?
[00:09:15] Greer Van Dyck: Because all of that, to me, is huge for loyalty over time. If companies are able to measure this on a semi-annual or annual basis, I think that is an excellent way to show return on investment. And to ask those long form answer questions, like, “What makes you rate this the way that you’re rating this?” And, in my experience with the clients that I’ve engaged with, it has shown that this mental and emotional support around the parental conversation at work is huge for individuals feeling more valued, more fulfilled, more engaged, more motivated to do good work and stay at the company.
[00:09:51] Roy Notowitz: How do you work to improve some of those statistics of women cutting maternity leave short due to anxiety or worry about workplace relevance? And also the 40 percent of women who are leaving the workforce due to–
[00:10:06] Greer Van Dyck: Yeah.
[00:10:07] Roy Notowitz: –insufficient parental benefits.
[00:10:10] Greer Van Dyck: So a lot of the work that I do also involves individual coaching with the person who’s left for maternity leave while she’s gone.
[00:10:17] Greer Van Dyck: It’s oftentimes this conversation that is built around, “Take the time, be with your family,” but the reality is there’s huge identity crises happening from the point of view of these two worlds now colliding that–
[00:10:31] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:10:32] Greer Van Dyck: –that are very disruptive and scary and hard to navigate. And so, my coaching through the parental leave to me has felt very key for keeping that transition as smooth as possible and giving that individual the best shot for retention. So they’re having to navigate, “Yeah, how do these two worlds now fit in together?”
[00:10:51] Greer Van Dyck: That is one way that I work to give individuals the time and space to talk through the fear and anxiety and to not feel the urgency to cut that parental leave short.
[00:11:03] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. I can see how it’s challenging. You know, your sense of purpose gets split, right? Because it used to be all about work, perhaps, or, you’d get a lot of validation from that, and you enjoy your work, but then, all of a sudden, you have this amazing child and that’s purpose within itself, but it’s a different kind of connection and different mission, right? And then those two have to come together and somehow integrate to where your priorities are shifted.
[00:11:30] Greer Van Dyck: Now those two worlds are literally coming together when the individual returns to work, because it’s quite another thing to conceptually understand, “Okay, how does my professional identity and my personal identity come together? But I’m not quite back at work, but I’m going to be back at work soon.” And so, with that return to work, that’s when you really hone in on team integration and support of the individual at the team level.
[00:11:53] Greer Van Dyck: Because, if the team– if any of them have not experienced parenthood before, or they experienced parenthood, and it felt really smooth, and they were motivated and excited to come back, and it was just very linear, it’s going to be very challenging for them to relate to the individual. So this coming together period is also very sensitive and delicate in its own way, but also very powerful, and it allows everyone to be able to know their needs, and state those needs, and ask for those needs.
[00:12:22] Roy Notowitz: Well, I think it’s a trend to have longer parental leaves now, or it seems to be moving in that direction. But still, the parental leaves are much shorter than, like, in Europe and other places. So–
[00:12:34] Greer Van Dyck: Yeah.
[00:12:35] Roy Notowitz: –as a new parent trying to work out all the logistics and getting into the groove, I could see how having a little extra time to work through that and to ramp up again would be really beneficial.
[00:12:48] Greer Van Dyck: Yeah. Agreed.
[00:12:50] Roy Notowitz: As a leader of an organization where I’ve had people come back into the work environment as a new parent, I really try not to treat them any differently with regard to expectations I, ask them to tell me, because I don’t want to assume that they can’t do certain things, or don’t want to do certain things, or don’t have the time, or need more flexibility.
[00:13:19] Roy Notowitz: It’s hard to know what they need unless they communicate it. So how do you sort of facilitate that exchange?
[00:13:25] Greer Van Dyck: Yeah, it’s a great question. And the reason that I spend the first couple of weeks doing the wayfinding and exploring is I’m assessing psychological safety in the environment for the individual, for the team, for the workplace, et cetera. Because, if you put it on the individual, what you are basically assuming is that they have the mental awareness, they’ve got the emotional intelligence, they’ve got the safety, they’ve got the confidence to share exactly where they are and feel seen, heard, and understood.
[00:13:57] Greer Van Dyck: Like, a lot has to line up in order for that system to work well. Without trust and respect, of self and other, and the ability to feel safe to show up as your fullest self at work, that dynamic that you just described is really challenging. Every individual is going to be so different with regards to how they are entering back into the new parent space or the recurring parent space.
[00:14:22] Greer Van Dyck: And that’s why this is the power of dialogue. So, for you to be able to go to that employee and say, “Here is what I’m assuming, and I want you to tell me where you are, because unless you tell me, I don’t know.” The power of that conversation is huge. I’m speaking also to the power of, and the importance of, psychological safety in order to have that conversation be as honest and productive as possible.
[00:14:47] Greer Van Dyck: Engaging in those conversations early and often is huge.
[00:14:52] Roy Notowitz: What are the top three things that hiring executives or leaders should do with this information as they think about their leadership teams?
[00:15:02] Greer Van Dyck: Hiring executives should be hiring leaders who are willing to engage in this kind of support. They’re willing to walk the talk. They’re willing to ask for it as well. Willing to share their own experiences about navigating parenthood. To initiate conversations with expecting or new parents and ask on a deeper level, “How has this journey been? What does support look like?” Etc. Modeling the behavior that you want to see in the people around you.
[00:15:27] Greer Van Dyck: So, advocating, showing that transparency, creating the safety to get an honest answer from your employees.
[00:15:36] Roy Notowitz: If you’re a director, VP, or C-level executive working in a company, and you’re thinking about having a family, or you’re along in that journey, how should somebody start that conversation or initiate the dialogue if their company doesn’t really proactively engage with them on that topic?
[00:15:59] Greer Van Dyck: Honestly, I would say that, to me, what has felt like the easiest access into that dialogue is to talk about it with a third party. Because, oftentimes, if that’s the environment, there’s– or there’s hesitation to initiate that kind of conversation internally, there’s a reason. And so, to be able to talk about it with a skilled professional who is external to the organization can sometimes alleviate some of the pressure around normalizing this conversation.
[00:16:28] Greer Van Dyck: So that, that’s what I would say would be the first gate. Otherwise, find allies at work where you can initiate with this dialogue, you know, friends outside of work. But this is why it’s really challenging. If you feel like you’re on an island, starting this can feel very, very hard.
[00:16:45] Roy Notowitz: Is there a way for somebody to sort of evaluate the level of support they might expect once they’re in an organization or before they even join?
[00:16:56] Greer Van Dyck: Absolutely. This gets into a really cool conversation around how people are onboarded to an organization. And I think that onboarding can be a continuous thing, right? It doesn’t have to just happen as the person is a new employee, but I think that People & Culture teams, HR teams, Benefits teams can really look into, “How are we gauging the needs of our employees? Whether it’s through surveys — are we doing them proactively?” You know, looking down the road, like, what are the key areas of support that they want to be giving to their employees? And what is the kind of data that would be most valuable for them to inform those decisions?
[00:17:35] Greer Van Dyck: First and foremost, ask your people, ask the employee base, what would be most meaningful with regards to parental support at this organization for you?
[00:17:42] Roy Notowitz: That’s great.
[00:17:43] Greer Van Dyck: And again, do it early and often, if you can.
[00:17:46] Roy Notowitz: As it relates to talent strategy or talent acquisition, what are some things companies can do to highlight or to incorporate this into their communication or dialogue with potential candidates?
[00:18:03] Greer Van Dyck: Yeah, so in, in my experience, this kind of support is pretty revolutionary for parental benefits departments. So, if there can be a prioritization of, you know, quote, “in-house support” of the mental and emotional health, as well as the tactical leadership skill development for parents in the workplace, it is a game changer for candidates who are interested in having a family or are interested in growing their family.
[00:18:26] Greer Van Dyck: The world of benefits doesn’t typically span much farther beyond a company’s donation of money or time. And that’s great. I think the donation of money or time is awesome, whether it’s paying for IVF or it’s giving you a longer maternity leave.
[00:18:40] Greer Van Dyck: But it doesn’t tend to the very real emotional and mental health burdens that come along with either the family planning decision, the pregnancy decision, the maternity leave, the return to work, et cetera.
[00:18:52] Roy Notowitz: How can you incorporate some of these parent-friendly resources into the candidate experience when they’re going through that interviewing process and learning about the company? Are there certain things companies can do to bring that to life a little bit at different points in the candidate recruiting or hiring process?
[00:19:12] Greer Van Dyck: I think that if they can show a menu of offerings, like, “We have support for the individual level. We have the support for the team level, whether it’s through fertility journey, pregnancy, parental leave, and return to work.”
[00:19:25] Greer Van Dyck: I think that if they can start putting together quick introductory programs, right? “We’re going to start hosting one workshop a month and one, this one is around individuals who are struggling with fertility, this one is around preparing for parental leave. This training is for how to support your team and reentering.”
[00:19:45] Greer Van Dyck: That is a great way it could come to life. But, to know that a company is engaging, and investing, and walking the talk to me is huge.
[00:19:57] Roy Notowitz: What are some initial steps that a company can take to become more parent-friendly?
[00:20:02] Greer Van Dyck: I think that when leadership teams can share vulnerable stories about the challenges of parenthood and battling the professional and personal identity, I think that gives people more permission to come forward, and show where they need help, and where they could use the support.
[00:20:18] Greer Van Dyck: So I think that modeling that vulnerability is a really great way to engage in the conversation. I would encourage all companies to encourage their supervisors to talk to their direct reports, right?
[00:20:32] Greer Van Dyck: Who are either pregnant, or they know that the person is thinking about becoming pregnant, or on maternity leave, and to check in and have real dialogue. I think that those are excellent ways to get the ball rolling. I mean, because the thing is that it has to involve human connection and having some of those difficult conversations where the individual can feel empowered to share what he or she is going through.
[00:20:56] Greer Van Dyck: That to me is a true indicator of being parent friendly and to really hear requests and work very hard to meet them.
[00:21:05] Roy Notowitz: What exciting things do you see happening with your current work and, and how are you envisioning the future?
[00:21:11] Greer Van Dyck: It’s very exciting how teams are engaging in this kind of support. So supervisors, bosses, teammates are coming forward because they don’t feel equipped to manage someone who’s pregnant.
[00:21:20] Greer Van Dyck: They are scared about a key member of their team going out on parental leave, or they’re really feeling the weight of someone being out on parental leave too long. So, it’s been really exciting to be part of bigger change and systemic change. So I’m very motivated to keep that going and growing.
[00:21:37] Roy Notowitz: Awesome. So how would somebody get in contact with you? What’s the best way for them to learn more about your work?
[00:21:46] Greer Van Dyck: You can visit my website. It’s www.windrosedirection.com, and I’m sure we’ll put that in the show notes as well.
[00:21:53] Roy Notowitz: Yes. This is great. It’s really fascinating. It’s unique, you know, I haven’t run across anyone who focuses in on specifically this aspect of the employee experience.
[00:22:05] Roy Notowitz: And I think the work that you’re doing is really cool. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.
[00:22:10] Greer Van Dyck: Same.
[00:22:10] Roy Notowitz: –so thanks so much for joining us today and sharing your insights on this topic.
[00:22:15] Greer Van Dyck: Yes, and thank you for having me. It’s been great.
[00:22:18] Roy Notowitz: Thanks for tuning in to this special episode of How I Hire. Visit howihire.com for more details about what you heard today.[00:22:26] Roy Notowitz: And if you’re enjoying the show, please let your friends and colleagues know about us. How I Hire is created by Noto Group Executive Search. To find out more about Noto Group, visit notogroup.com, and you can also sign up for our monthly jobs newsletter there to keep tabs on what we’re working on. This podcast was produced by A.O. McClain, LLC. To learn more about their great work, visit aomcclain.com.