“I challenge the concept of ‘having it all’” Verena Hefti MBE, CEO and Founder, Leaders Plus

In a world where balancing career ambitions and parenthood can seem like an intricate dance, Verena Hefti MBE, has taken an alternative approach. In founding Leaders Plus, she has provided a way to help parents change the way they navigate their professional journeys while nurturing their families.

My journey into parenting advocacy began first with a career in the charity sector. A driven individual, I held the position of a charity director at Teach First. However, the turning point came during my maternity leave, where I felt the societal pressure to step back. Seeking a community of support from like-minded individuals, I organised an event at the House of Commons, gathering women who, like me, wanted to pursue both their career ambitions and parenthood.

The idea of Leaders Plus was born out of this need for support and a desire to help parents flourish in a system not initially set up for them. I consulted stakeholders, identified critical needs, and designed a programme for career progression. This programme goes beyond the individual, addressing challenges throughout the whole organisation.

The Leaders Plus Fellowship programme has proved to be a game-changer. An impressive 60% of participants from the last programme achieved leadership roles. The essence lies in providing knowledge traditionally found in the ‘old boys club.’ Training in workplace politics training and fostering a sense of courage among participants are integral components.

I challenge the concept of ‘having it all’, expectations of parents have increased in exponentially in the last five decades and it is impossible to fit in with the image of a perfect parent and perfect leader. I emphasise the importance of aligning choices with personal values, letting go of the need for perfection, and embracing the complexity of balancing a career and family.

When it comes to creating an inclusive environment for working parents, it is valuable for employers to recognise that working parents often don’t tell them how tough they find it; our research has shown that one in four employees have moved employers to find an employer more supportive of family responsibilities. I advise organisations to collect data on gender representation in various roles, offer targeted support, and network with other organisations supporting working parents.

The shift towards more active parenting roles for men can be met with resistance from organisations that still expect mothers to take on the primary parenting role. Times are changing, but the expectations placed on women to manage everything persist. In order for this to change, organisations have to embrace flexibility for their working parents – male and female.

My dedication to this cause was consolidated through my journey with the IoD. James Darley, an executive director and then-member of the IoD, played a pivotal role in giving me the confidence to set up Leaders Plus. The beauty of IoD’s London home, 116 Pall Mall, where I first engaged with the IoD, made me feel valued and empowered. I saw it as a place for individuals willing to do brave things to connect. I used to bring my baby along to IoD meetings, where I was always treated as a professional.

Now, with three children and a supportive partner who is also a director, I understand the challenges that working parents, both men and women, face.

Reflecting on my personal journey and the impact of Leaders Plus, it’s clear that self promotion is as crucial as hard work. The Leaders Plus Fellowship programme not only provides essential knowledge but also creates a supportive community that fosters courage and empowers individuals to advocate for themselves. As I continue to champion working parents, I encourage young professionals to create a network that supports and challenges them, seek honest feedback, and say yes to opportunities, even if it seems daunting.

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