The London School of Economics and Political Science has just won the Workingmums.co.uk Best for Dads Award. It tells Workingmums.co.uk about its policy and practice, including offering seminars to new dads.
Many of the most progressive organisations have been looking at ways to reach out to dads and give them support to take a more active role in parenting. Through encouraging more equal parenting they also believe they are helping their female employees and reflecting fast-changing social expectations.
The London School of Economics and Political Science, which has just won the Workingmums.co.uk Best for Dads Award, does this through a variety of methods, including offering seminars to new dads. But unusually it also offers places on the seminars to the partners of female employees, even if they don’t work for LSE.
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“It’s not entirely altruistic,” says Gail Keeley, HR Manager, Policy and Employment Relations. “Happy employees make better employees.”
The decision to set up the seminars came after LSE took part in a Working Families survey in 2010 to assess where the gaps were in its provision for families. “We found we were doing quite well as far as women were concerned, but there was a gap for men,” says Keeley.
It was around then that new legislation was coming in on additional paternity leave. “We wanted to reflect what was happening in society, the fact that dads were taking a larger role in parenting and we wanted to provide support by addressing the perception that there are negative career prospects for men who have family friendly working patterns,” says Keeley. “It seemed a win win situation. We wanted to create policies and practices that were attractive to parents and for managers to feel comfortable about granting flexible working.”
LSE had a parents network which was mainly made up of women members and set up some years ago, but it had gone a bit quiet. “The women said it had been set up to address a number of issues which had all been addressed and they needed help to revitalise the support for parents," says Keeley. So LSE decided to launch Balancing Work and Being Dad seminars and a mentoring scheme for new parents. These are promoted to new dads via the website, through staff newsletters and directly to dads who are taking up paternity leave in increasing numbers.
The seminars, which will soon be extended to new mums, are held termly and are introduced by a senior manager – a sign of senior leadership’s commitment to what HR are doing.
Another senior leader, a pro-director, is a mentor to parents to be and new parents. All the mentors are parents themselves and their details are listed on the website so new parents can find the most suitable match, for instance, some mentors are particularly knowledgeable about making flexible working requests.
LSE has around 3,500 employees, although some are on hourly pay. Some 48.2% are women with around 41% of its academics and 53.3% of its managers being female. Its pro-directors and director are currently all men, but this has not always been the case.
Many of its staff work flexibly, although requests for flexible working are not formally recorded, and there is an assumption that academics can work flexibly, says Keeley.
A forthcoming staff survey will for the first time look to ascertain how extensively employees use both formal and informal flexible working. Anecdotally, though, Keeley says many men are working flexibly, such as a new dad who works flexi-hours, finishing at 4.30pm so he can be home for his baby’s feed. Other flexible working case studies are included on the LSE website, for instance, an employee who works before breakfast from home and then travels into work later after having time with her children. “Everyone gains,” says Keeley. “Her manager travels abroad a lot and he knows he can get an early response to emails he sends late at night UK time.”
Keeley agrees that case studies are vital for showing other employees and managers how flexible working can benefit both employee and the organisation. “We very much encourage managers not to think of no as their first reaction, that they should never give a flat no and should think about whether a job can be done another way. And we encourage employees to think about the implications for their team of flexible working requests,” she says.
Keeley says flexible working is also a key issue for the growing number of employees who are carers. LSE has recently held its first workshop for carers and has another planned for January.
“It’s more difficult to attract people who are carers to workshops because people who take maternity, paternity or adoption leave are aware that they will take that leave in advance and can plan for it. For carers, things can change quite suddenly,” says Keeley. She adds that LSE is trying to identify people who might be interested in the workshops through HR and it is also trying to change the wording it uses because many people who have caring responsibilities do not consider themselves carers.
LSE has recently approached the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital to find out how other employers make their schemes for carers more prominent. “Of course, more and more employees will have caring responsibilities for both children and elderly relatives,” says Keeley, “and it is in all our interests to find ways to help support them.”