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Clare Bishop, winner of our Working Mums’ Champion Award, talks about the babies in the office initiative that won her the prize.
Addison Lee’s Babies in the Office initiative won a lot of attention when it appeared on our tv screens last year.
It certainly raised a lot of debate about childcare issues, but many of the comments were slightly cynical. Was it all a PR ploy, people asked?
Clare Bishop, who recently won the workingmums.co.uk Working Mums’ Champion Award for her key role in pushing the initiative through as Head of HR, rejects such assumptions totally.
She says it was a risky thing for the company to take on since reality shows rarely come off wholly positively for those involved and adds that Addison Lee has been asked many times in the past to take part in fly on the wall reality shows and has turned them down.
They were approached by the tv production company and they had a lot of meetings with them before agreeing to take part.
Filming was intensive. For instance, Liam Griffin, CEO of Addison Lee, and Clare spent a week in the US looking at the companies there who already allowed women to bring their babies to work with them due to the US’ poor maternity leave policies.
They were filmed 14 hours a day for just a tiny section in the tv programme. “For every one hour on the tv we must have filmed 100,” says Clare.
She says what won Liam around to the idea was that the company was wholly family owned at the time – it has since been bought by the Carlyle Group – and had always prided itself on doing things which were outside the norm. “We wanted to offer our employees a benefit that could really make a difference,” says Clare.
Women interviewed for the film spoke of how childcare costs had limited their options. One woman said she would have to delay having another child due to high childcare bills. Clare says some women never come back as a result.
She admits that staff who have brought in their babies usually operate at around 60% productivity initially, but argues that the long-term benefits for the business and for individual employees are huge, including increased loyalty.
One lady who has five children and was featured in the programme working away with her baby in his chair at her feet was promoted to team manager. If she had taken a year off, she might not have come back and would probably have missed the chance for promotion, says Clare.
During the programme it was decided that the initiative works best for babies under one. A decision was made to work towards setting up a creche for older children, but that has been put on hold due to red tape.
So far, 12 women have taken up the option of bringing their babies to the office, but currently there are no babies around, although some parents do bring them in for emergency reasons, such as their childminder being ill.
The policy is open to mums and dads and Addison Lee has two male employees to every one female. It is not open to drivers as they are self employed or to those working in the garages for health and safety reasons.
Clare adds that no employees have objected to babies being in the office. In fact, when there are babies there she says the office environment is warmer. “It softens people. People talk to each other more,” she says.
She adds that the level of applicants has improved since the tv programme and flexible working requests have risen significantly.
Clare adds that she is disappointed that more companies have not shown an interest in finding out about the initiative since the tv programme.
Only a handful have got in touch. “It’s easy to put in place and we are more than happy to talk to people. We are really passionate about the programme and I think employees would respect companies that were willing to give it a go.”