Supporting dads in the workplace

Working Mums - Top Employer Awards 2017 at the Soho Hotel

Berwin Leighton Paisner has come a long way since it launched its Inclusivity Strategy in 2015 and places a strong emphasis on being a family friendly firm.

The law firm has not only reviewed all its policies and benefits, but has focused on creating an open culture that supports all those with caring responsibilities.

That includes dads and the firm not only has supportive policies for fathers, but also backs this up with strong and visible senior role models who clearly communicate the importance the firm places on providing a nurturing culture that helps employees to achieve their potential.

It was for this reason that BLP was chosen as the winner of this year’s’s Best for Dads award at its Top Employer Awards.

The emphasis on family friendly working comes from the bottom up, with its parents network feeding into its Family Task Group which in turns helps to shape the firm’s inclusivity strategy and coordinates family-related events and support.

Senior role models

The Group is led jointly by two partners – Derek Hrydziuszko and Bonnie Calnan – who both act as Family Champions.

Claire England, Head of Diversity & Inclusivity, says it was a conscious decision to have a dad co-chairing the group so that family was not seen as a female issue.

She adds that it is also important that there are senior partners at the helm as this shows senior management’s commitment to the issues. Both Derek and Bonnie are aware of the need to act as role models and discuss their family situations openly with colleagues. In addition to challenging comments which are not in keeping with the firm’s inclusive policies,  they regularly communicate with the firm’s 1,400 employees about what the task group is doing and about the importance of family life.

The Task Group includes over 30 individuals from all departments and levels of seniority and has been behind a range of developments and initiatives, including a review of existing policies, processes and benefits such as sabbaticals, the maternity coaching programme and promoting flexible working, advocating BLP’s Shared Parental Leave policy, organising a series of family-related seminars in conjunction with the parents network and devising the company’s annual Family Festive Afternoon.

The latter began in 2015 and has been held annually ever since. Employees are invited to bring their children into work in the run-up to Christmas and there are all sorts of festivities, including children’s entertainers.

“It’s a leveller. People make connections they would not make and you see people in a different light,” says England, who adds that the firm is looking at running a similar event for carers to reduce the stigma around elder care.

Sharing experiences

The firm’s parents network, which has a good balance of mums and dads, meets once a quarter. In addition to supporting the Family Festive Afternoon, it suggests subjects for regular talks on different family issues. These have included elder care, exam stress and drugs and teenagers. Many are very practical, giving tips and advice to parents. The network members share their experiences and provide peer support.

England says the Family Task Group meets with HR every two months and feeds in policy ideas which HR then takes forward to the executive. The subject of sabbaticals, for instance, came from the group and they were consulted about the length of sabbaticals, eligibility criteria, restrictions on numbers in a team who could be on sabbatical at any given time and whether they should be paid or not. “We used the group as a sounding board,” says England. The unpaid sabbatical policy was introduced this year. It is a minimum of six weeks up to a year. England says the policy has been well received.

More recently the group has discussed carers leave. The firm has emergency leave for those with carer issues, but is still developing a full carers leave policy. “Rather than the policy coming from HR we want to make sure that it is from the employees and is right for them,” says England. BLP offers six sessions of emergency care for adults and children per employee per year through My Family Care. That includes holiday clubs.

BLP also offers parental coaching and has recently added paternity coaching and support for line managers to its existing maternity coaching programme. Coaching is offered before, during and after leave. For dads who usually take less leave, coaching tends to be taken after the leave, but England says it is up to the individual. As part of the coaching process, parents have access to a career development manager.

Shared Parental Leave

Talk of paternity coaching came as a result of the Shared Parental Leave  (SPL) legislation. BLP has a good number of eligible dads – 35% – who have taken SPL and 70% of these have accessed paternity coaching since it was introduced. England puts the number of dads taking SPL down to the firm’s commitment to highlighting SPL – which is enhanced at the same level as maternity pay – and regularly communicating information and case studies about it, including for Father’s Day. She says it is made clear in information that is sent out about it that there is line manager support for those who take it – indeed senior members of staff are among those who have been profiled as having taken SPL. “We profiled a partner who had taken it for Father’s Day. There is nothing more powerful than senior people taking it,” says England.  SPL crops up regularly on departmental meetings with HR.

England says all of the firm’s parental support is backed up with flexible working, which has been rolled out internationally. Some employees have formal flexible working – a couple of partners work term time only. However, much of the flexible working in the firm is informal which she says works better because of changing client demands. “It gives people more control and autonomy over how they manage client demands.  We trust them to make it work as it will vary from day to day. It is our job to make that as easy as possible,” she says. New roles are advertised as being open to flexible working and the firm has a homeworking legal team in Manchester. Moreover, two Heads of Department personally met with their departments to encourage working flexibly to meet the demands of home-life issues.

“We look at family as a whole and we are keen to hear from our colleagues what would make their working lives easier,” says England.

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