The other day I received a slightly cryptic email. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg would be giving a briefing at the headquarters of professional services giant Deloitte. He would also be speaking to parents working for Deloitte and the event would be used as an opportunity to call on businesses to implement family friendly, flexible working practices. Would I be interested in hearing what Clegg had to say?
Having followed the introduction of shared parental leave very closely, I was indeed keen to hear what would be said. I was also delighted to hear a politician of Clegg’s senior rank calling on employers to think about this issue.
Once I’d got the school run out of the way, I headed straight off to Central London on Monday morning. I agreed not to write anything until today because Clegg is taking part in a further event with the Confederation of British Industry and Mumsnet that will also highlight family friendly working practices and issues surrounding paternity leave.
What took place on Monday was a very interesting discussion involving Clegg, Emma Codd, Deloitte’s Managing Partner for Talent and about 20 Deloitte staff. It was fascinating to note the diversity of the staff and their needs. In case you’re wondering why Deloitte hosted the discussion, it’s because the company has just announced enhanced paternity leave packages for its staff.
Among those in the room was a woman expecting her first child (Leisl van Zyl, see below), a mum pregnant with her second child, a dad with older children and a dad who had a child born to a surrogate. There was also a dad who happened to be a non-UK citizen and living here long-term on a work visa. As a non-Brit, he and his wife aren’t entitled to the full range of benefits a UK citizen would be, thereby placing certain pressures on his family unit.
The gathering demonstrated perfectly just how diverse families are and why there is a desperate need for employers to be as family friendly as they possibly can. It also rammed home the point that the rigid, antiquated maternity and paternity leave systems are completely inadequate. This is something the new shared parental leave system coming into force in April should go some way to remedying. The enhanced rights to request flexible working will also help families to strike a better work / life balance.
I’ve written previously about shared parental leave and the new flexible working rules (and also took part in a Google+ hangount organised by BritMums that featured Equalities Minister Jo Swinson). I won’t go into the detail about shared parental leave and flexible working or else this will turn into an exceedingly long post. If you do want to know more, however, please take a look here, here or here.
I was also lucky enough to get a few minutes with the Deputy Prime Minster himself. I only had the time to ask a few questions, but here’s what was said:
Me; Easy question first. What is the message you want mums and dads to take away from this event?
Clegg; “I want us to move from a world where politicains and Governments told you as a mum or a dad how to live your life. I want to move from that outdated and patronising way of doing things and for people to be liberated so they can have the freedom to work out for themselves how to divvy up duties in the workplace and at home. I want us to move this way because; a) I’m an old fashioned liberal and believe in people being trusted to make their own decisions b) because this is the only way we’re going to get equality between men and women in the workplace and c) it makes economic sense and is good for UK plc.”
Clegg went on to say that we live in a knowledge based economy. Companies have a desire to retain talent and “smart people” and being family friendly was one way of making sure this happened.
Me; Is the introduction of family friendly polices such as shared parental leave evolution or revolution?
Clegg; “It’s a transformative step but I think it’s part of an evolution. Rules on their own don’t change peoples’ behaviour. We all need to help change expectations, aspirations and assumptions we make about men and women at home and in the workplace. What came out through the discussion today was that you can change the rules as much as you like, but until dads feel confident and self confident about doing something that breaks from the traditional concept about what dads are and what men are, you’re not going to get that change. You’re obviously the embodiment of it in many respects*. Until that happens, the change in the rules that I managed to push through will only lead to a transformation if people feel they have the confidence and self confidence to deploy them (new flexible working and shared parental leave rules).
Me; We’ve spoken about your message to mums and dads. What’s your message to businesses, especially smaller ones?
Clegg; “You have to be sensitive to smaller employers. Of course it is different when you’re trying to build a business and every week and month is a hand to mouth existence and as the rules change you think ‘am I going to cope?’
“If you look at the entitlement to ask for flexible working arrangements, we’ve pretty much doubled the number of people in the country that now have that entitlement. An employer can, if they have a reasonable grounds to do so, turn a request down and that is recognised in law so we have tried to strike a balance. On the whole, my experience is that where companies, even small ones, embrace agile working arrangements they get more out of their employees. Employees who are sat at their desk feeling wretched because they haven’t been able to help a sick parent or take a child to a special event are not very productive employees.”
It struck me that Clegg seemed passionate about bringing about change for the benefit of families and both genders. His comments about dads needing to be self confident in requesting flexible working etc were very interesting. I think he’s right, many dads probably will be concerned about taking their shared parental leave entitlement or requesting flexible working arrangements at first. Earlier on in the session, Clegg had admitted further legislation may be required in the future to encourage men into using shared parental leave. He conceded the new rules represent a huge change for business to get used to. Any further, enhanced entitlements for employees would have to be introduced in incremental steps.
Before departing I also had the chance to speak to a couple of Deloitte’s employees; Mark Kennedy, a dad of three and Leisl van Zyl, who is expecting her first child in February. The picture they painted was of an organisation that has some superb family friendly policies.
Recognising the leap from full time employee to being on maternity leave can be a massive shock to the system, women receive transition coaching. Mark and Leisl also explained that Deloitte measures staff on output, not at hours behind their desk at the office. Staff frequently work from home or work in the evening or start early and finish early so they can collect children or drop them off at school. The organisation also has a network of nurseries available to staff if they find they need emergnecy childcare. Thinking back to my own days in the corporate world, I would have found that an awesome facility to use!
All things considered, this was a fascinating session and it was great to meet Clegg and hear what he had to say. While the coalition Government has had its share of controversies, it has gone some way to improve things in the workplace for families and by default enable us dads to be more hands on. There’s undoubtedly much more to do. It was good, however, to hear Clegg admit as much. I also hope employers get the message about family friendly, flexible working and understand it’s as much for their benefit as their employees.
* This was a reference to me being a stay at home dad. A slightly awkward moment if I’m honest, but a very nice thing for Clegg to say!