LSE believes it has created a good culture for dads – and the award of the Workingmums.co.uk Best for Dads Top Employer Award for the fourth year running confirms it. The judges said LSE was a beacon in the academic world because of its innovative policies on dads and its recognition of the family unit.
The challenge it now faces is to embed that culture and keep up the momentum while it waits for evidence of the results of the many initiatives put in place to achieve change.
Natalie Pancheri, HR Policy Adviser, says LSE’s supportive culture for dads is reflected in the take-up it has had of Shared Parental Leave, for instance. Fourteen people – mostly academics – have applied for Shared Parental Leave so far, which is higher than in many organisations.
Natalie puts this down to its enhanced SPL pay which offers parents 16 weeks on full pay; a culture which supports dads and mums and its research leave policy for academics.
Just three of those who have applied for SPL are women and some have partners at LSE. Natalie says she is not surprised by the lower number of women taking up SPL since LSE has a generous maternity policy.
She agrees that extending SPL to grandparents could affect take-up by dads if mums have to choose between dads and grandparents over who they share their leave with, but feels this is less likely at LSE because of the supportive work life culture for dads.
Nevertheless, she notes that adding in grandparents at this stage when the original policy is complex and still needs time to embed could create more bureaucracy and confusion.
However, she says the problem that most needs tackling in these cases is the workplace culture, not legislative developments
LSE’s research leave policy is truly innovative and allows any academic who has been absent for 18 weeks or more, a teaching-free term on full pay to catch up on research.
Most returning parents can opt for a phased return to work using their accrued annual leave. It recognises that having a break can have an impact on career progression.
The Research Leave document says: ‘The purpose of research leave is for Academic Staff members to re-establish their research trajectory following a long period of absence.’
The policy, which has been taken up by around 20 academics since 2014, will be incorporated into a central database of information so that the impact of such policies can be more easily measured.
“We brought in the research leave policy, partly in in response to concerns that there was a leaking pipeline for women in academic roles. Men and women were split 50/50 at lecturer level, but the ratio decreased the further women progressed. We want to be able to check if the research leave policy is having a positive impact on women’s career progression,” says Natalie.
LSE also offers a series of workshops for parents and carers and their partners, whether or not they work for LSE.
“The initiative recognises that by opening up the workshops to partners of employees, support is given to both parents and in turn, it is hoped that this will have a positive impact on our employees,” she says.
The workshops for new dads, which include advice on how to request flexible working, came out of a benchmarking exercise with Working Families a few years ago. It found that LSE offered a lot of support to mums, but not so much to dads.
The workshops for new dads were so successful that mums also asked for similar workshops. Since then LSE has become one of the most progressive employers for dads.
Other workshops the School offers include those for parenting primary school-aged children and it is hoped that a further workshop aimed at parenting teenagers will be introduced in the next year or so, to acknowledge the different challenges in the different phases of parenting and work.
This came out of a discussion with union members who felt that there was a lot of advice for new parents, but little for parents of older children. Another workshop developed by Natalie’s predecessor Gail Keeley is for carers. Natalie says that currently LSE is trying to bring together all the information it has for carers in one place and to introduce a carers policy.
This will be consulted on in the next academic year. She feels that the sandwich generation – parents of young children who also have caring responsibilities for elderly parents – will become a growing issue.
“We are looking at what we offer to carers and what we need to do to reach out to them. It’s a sensitive subject because people may not identify as carers,” says Natalie.
She adds that the burgeoning of workshops has been “quite organic” and is based on feedback from employees – through staff surveys and employee network groups – which is discussed in regular brainstorming sessions of the LSE’s HR steering group.
Natalie chairs the group and says it is currently looking for more feedback from parents and carers on what more it can do to support them better.
A recent innovation which aims to “move beyond compliance” has been the rolling out of unconscious bias training on two levels – in open workshops, which anyone can attend if they want to, and targeted sessions for directors and senior managers involved in recruitment.
So far 112 people have taken part in the targeted sessions. The work on unconscious bias is also part of a new behaviour framework being rolled out next term. “It’s a real focus for the School,” says Natalie. Many academics and managers, including LSE’s Director, have already been on the course.
Natalie attended a session on unconscious bias in recruitment, which covered how adverts are worded, how shortlisting is done and how decisions are made on who is hired.
Last year LSE introduced a policy of reviewing long lists if shortlists turn out to be all male to try to ensure that no bias has occurred. This has now become integrated into how the academic recruitment process works.
The aim with unconscious bias work is to catch not just those who are interested or already aware, but to ensure all decision makers and future decision makers receive it.
Natalie says there has been little opposition. “If people are told to do something they may object, but if you engage them from the outset and if they understand the purpose they will often come on board,” she says.