Tom Lewthwaite not only talks the talk about flexible working, but he walks the walk too. Lewthwaite is a partner at leading business advisory firm Deloitte and heads its working parents and carers network. Workingmums.co.uk spoke to him.
Tom Lewthwaite not only talks the talk about flexible working, but he walks the walk too. Lewthwaite is a partner at leading business advisory firm Deloitte and heads its working parents and carers network. He is also dad to three children and a stepson as well as a rugby coach so he knows about getting the work life balance right.
His daughter is aged 8 and he has two sons, aged 11 and 12, who are at boarding school. His 28-year-old stepson lives with the family too. Although his wife doesn’t work, Tom is keen not to miss out on family events. To this end, he says, he operates a fairly informal flexible working pattern which fits around both family obligations – he has never missed a school play, he says – and his passion for rugby. He is currently doing a referee course and coaches a junior and youth rugby team in Surrey. When he coaches for the county team, he may have to take whole days or afternoons off.
His club commitments mean he has to leave early at least once a week and he has to spend most weekends on the touchline. “Many senior managers at Deloitte are very good at working flexibly. We want to encourage the idea that you can work hard and play hard,” he says, adding that flexible working is open to all staff at the firm. Tom, who specialises in financial services, positively promotes examples of people working flexibly and has asked to see every flexible working application that is turned down.
There haven’t been any yet, but he says the message he is trying to give is that managers should try to accommodate people’s flexible working needs unless there is a very good reason not to. “I am quite hands on about making it work,” he says.
The working parents and carers network he heads was set up around two years ago at the same time that a series of other networks were created to allow staff the opportunity to discuss matters where there was a common interest. These include a women’s network. “You just have to have an interest in the topic,” says Tom. “It’s about helping Deloitte benefit better from the diversity within the firm.”
He is the second partner to lead the working parents and carers network. The previous leader was a woman and Tom says he was very conscious of the fact that there were likely to be more working dads at Deloitte than working mums. “I feel it is important that the interests of working fathers are represented and it would be very easy for these kinds of networks to become more about mothers than families. We need to recognise that a lot of people are carers, although it may not be as obvious with dads as with mums,” he says. “As an organisation we recognise that dads want strong bonds with their children.”
He adds that Deloitte staff surveys show a strong correlation between the age of dads in the company and their attitudes to issues such as paternity leave and being more involved with their children. “Younger staff completely accept it as the norm,” he says. “We want to push for this to be the norm for society as a whole so we need creative thinking. We are looking at paternity rights and asking whether they should be different from maternity rights and whether that leads to indirect discrimination against women. Shared baby leave is something we are very interested in. We want to be sure we are coming up with the right answer rather than one which fits current legislation. We want to treat people as we would want to be treated ourselves.”
The network not only seeks to share knowledge among employees in the firm about parenting and caring issues, but is also looking at ways of involving the wider family of Deloitte parents. The firm is, for instance, setting up a social networking site which will be open to spouses of Deloitte parents. It is also hoping to host a series of family Christmas parties up and down the country on 22nd December with face painting, clowns and other entertainment. “It’s about recognising that people are balancing their time and commitments and that there doesn’t have to be a conflict,” says Tom. “You can have an integrated life.”
The network also hosts sessions on particular themes, such as first aid for parents, schools, child development and protecting children from Internet risks. In addition, it publishes research on issues relating to working parents and carers on its intranet.
This fits with the purpose of all Deloitte’s networks, says Tom, which is to provide support, share knowledge and encourage diversity. Topics raised as being of concern are taken back to senior managers – Tom, for instance, channels issues around working parents and carers through to the talent executive of which he is a member. One such issue that has been raised in network discussions is stress. “Stress, whatever its cause, can be very disabling,” says Tom. “Colleagues may not recognise that someone is suffering from stress. We have set up mental health champions to talk to people who are suffering from stress, to proactively mentor them and to raise awareness about the issue,” he says.
They can refer people to the occupational health team and to staff in HR who have training in managing stress. Tom says flexible working is an important tool for promoting diversity in the workplace. For Deloitte, he adds, it is not just about complying with current legislation.
“It’s about allowing staff to work in ways that ensure we maximise their contribution and about recognising that people’s circumstances change over their careers. They may start as graduates and then take on caring responsibilities. We need to provide a working environment that can adapt to this. This can only improve our retention rates,” he says, adding: “If we embrace diversity and flexible working fully there may be costs and challenges, but ultimately we will be stronger as an organisation because of it and that will be part of our success.”