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Digital marketing is growing up and alongside this so are its staff. One company that is trying to reflect that in the policies and support it offers to staff is iCrossing which has recently been recognised for its policies and practice on flexible working and supporting dads.
iCrossing has 155 employees in the UK and offices in Brighton, London and Manchester. The number of pregnancies among employees has risen significantly in the last few years and at the end of last year 20% of its staff were parents. That number has continued to rise and with it have come more requests for flexible working.
Launched in 1997 from a home office as Spannerworks, it was acquired by US digital agency iCrossing in 2007 and became iCrossing UK. iCrossing was then bought by Hearst Corporation in 2010. Like much of the digital industry, it was fairly male dominated in its infancy. However, it has worked hard to attract more women and the gender split is more balanced now – 58% of staff are men and 42% women.
It is now looking to recruit more experienced staff, especially women, to build its pipeline to senior management and realises that many of these will be in their 30s and upwards. This means they are likely to be parents and may not be able to work the long hours traditionally associated with those in the early stages of their careers. Indeed, half of mums at the company have a formal flexible working agreement and flexible working helps to keep its retention rates after maternity leave relatively high for the sector at 61%.
iCrossing was shortlisted recently by Working Families for its employer awards for being best for mums and for dads. Working Families has also been leading training in flexible working for iCrossing’s managers and was recognised for the progress it has made. The training includes how to manage flexible teams and unconscious bias, a particular challenge for client-facing industries and an important part of the company’s work to promote more women to senior management.
“We want to make sure they don’t make assumptions about why people might want to work flexibly,” says HR manager Rosie Shimell, who adds that open communication is vital for agreeing flexibility that works for both employee and employer. “From a business perspective it makes sense that people who feel empowered and have more work life balance are more motivated,” adds Chief Talent Officer Rachel Collier. “We encourage our managers to approach requests for flexible working by thinking how can we make it work, rather than turning them down right at the beginning.”
If some managers are sceptical about how a particular request might work, they can suggest a three-month trial period during which the emphasis is on the employee to make it work. “There is a snowballing effect when it works. Successful case studies turn around views and perceptions,” says Rachel.
For new parents, the company has a Parent Mentor scheme which it introduced 18 months ago and initially called iParent. Shimell says the aim is to provide “not just tangible benefits for parents, but also emotional support”. HR asked parents if they would like to volunteer to be mentors and got a good response. Half of the mentor/mentee relationships are for dads. Shimell says: “Because we are a small SME our budgets are not as big as some of our larger rivals so we have had to be quite creative.” The mentoring scheme’s name has since been changed to iFamily in recognition that other employees, such as carers, might need similar support. Indeed, the company anticipates a growth in the number of employees in the so-called sandwich generation – caring for young children and elderly relatives at the same time – in the coming years.
The mentoring scheme works by offering staff taking on caring responsibilities a mentor and HR setting up the first meeting.
Generally mentors for first-time parents are around six months ahead of their mentees, for instance, they have been back from maternity or paternity leave for a short time and have recent experience of having to adapt to life as a working parent. HR provide guidelines for mentors and mentors are told that if they are asked questions beyond their remit, such as questions about legal issues, they can refer them back to HR. “We really want it to be an informal relationship,” says Shimell. After the initial meeting, the mentor and mentee are encouraged to meet twice more for half an hour to an hour to catch up. Shimell adds that the company believes the relationship has enabled parents to have more confidence about, for instance, asking for flexible working. One dad mentee who was mentored by another dad who was working compressed hours asked for the exact same working pattern, for instance.
iCrossing offers a generous enhanced maternity package to women of 12 weeks on full pay and says, like many other companies, it is waiting to see what the response is to Shared Parental Leave and what other organisations do.
Another initiative iCrossing has brought in recently for those with caring responsibilities is Together Time. This allows employees to take two hours out of their day for caring duties without having to book annual leave, for instance, to see a child in a school play or take an elderly relative to the doctor’s.
The company does not want to sit on its laurels after its success with Working Families. It is currently writing a range of eBooks for staff: ‘I am a mum to be’, ‘I am managing a Mum to Be’, ‘I want to work flexibly’ (amongst others). Shimell says: “The aim of these is to break down the complex language that often surrounds the framework of maternity leave and flexible working – so that all relevant stakeholders are able to digest and understand the range of options available to them and the benefits of creating a workforce that is supportive of those with caring duties.”
She adds: “We take the long-term view that by developing a culture that positively supports mums, we are more likely to be create a culture that is supportive of dads taking extended parental leave and staff who need to work flexibly to look after elders. Both of these we feel will become bigger issues in the future, and therefore it makes good business sense for us to be thinking about them now.”