Talent Fueller – Jonathan Clarke @ Kilburn & Strode

Jonathan Clarke (pictured on the right) is the HR Director at the patent and trademarking law firm, Kilburn & Strode. We heard about K&S’s enlightened approach to fathers, flexibility and shared parental leave and asked Jonathan to tell us some more.

In a nutshell, could you tell us who Kilburn & Strode’s clients are and what the practice does for them?

We work with clients from just about every industry sector. This means that day-to-day our attorneys are dealing with a hugely diverse and constantly evolving range of intellectual property issues. In the most basic terms, we’re here to protect our clients’ interests and make their lives easier. Offering a complete intellectual property service is key to our ability to deliver on that promise.


As the HRD at Kilburn & Strode what are you working on at the moment? And what do you want to say you’ve created/delivered/changed/improved 12 months from now?

We entered the Times Top 100 employer survey last October. We have had a people survey for the last 3 years and we wanted a more in-depth survey and a better understanding of how we are actually doing. We were accredited as “One to Watch” – that really means we have quite a way to go to be a top 100 employer – but we are determined. That’s my focus for the next 12 months.


You have a trusting, open culture and you embrace flexible working. Could you give us a flavour of what “flexible working” looks like at Kilburn & Strode and how it’s relevant to the practice’s success?

We have just short of 100 people who charge their time to our clients – they all have a laptop and Skype soft phone – that means they are equipped from an IT perspective to work anywhere they choose to. We encourage that. Success for us is about client satisfaction – that is not measured by people being in an office. Our gender split is approximately 50/50 and that reflects itself in thosde who choose to work at home. The majority of our Partners have at least a day a week working at home – that sets the tone.


You have beautiful, carefully designed offices yet you’re keen to get more people working from home. Why is that and how are you going to encourage that shift?

It’s a beautiful space – thank you. We want our people to be able to choose where they work and when you let them choose you soon realise that for the majority, they like coming to the office – I think that is about the space but its also because we like working together – face to face time is so important. As we continue to invest in IT and move away from any paper altogether, I believe more people will be as efficient at home as they are in the office.


What do you think are the main risks for law firms and professional services companies who don’t have a widespread culture of flexible working?

It’s a shame isn’t it – I think the risks are that you lose good people, that we don’t look innovative to our clients and that the clear message is that sitting within sight is more important that quality of work and client care.


Any final thoughts on flexible working?  

What I’ve noticed is that many of our 20-30 year olds prefer coming into the office – perhaps that is because in London they live in shared accommodation and their homes aren’t really set up with a place to work.


What messages are you giving to fathers, and when, about Shared Parental Leave? How many have taken SPL and how do you see that changing (or not) over the next 5 years?

We made a big deal of SPL at the time of its launch and not since then. This needs one senior dad to get it going – everyone needs a role model and new dads will follow. Two of our mums shared their leave with their husbands – and we were of course delighted to have them back sooner than expected. Once it takes off, it will be normal – we in K&S want to be leading on flexibility and your question reminds me to do more.


We know that take-up of SPL has been very low since it was introduced in April 2015. There are many reasons for this, including it being counter-cultural for men to stay at home with an infant whilst the mother works. If a firm was really serious about getting more men to take SPL, what do you think it would be doing?

Constantly talking about it, sharing the policy with fathers, suggesting that fathers talk to their employer when they are expecting (men rarely tell anyone at work for quite a few months) and the most important – persuading a senior male role model to do it.


If we lived in a society where men and women took equal amounts of leave upon becoming parents what changes do you think we would see in workplaces? In wider society?

We might not have a gender pay gap, we might not have all male boardrooms.


What would be your advice to an expectant father who would like to take SPL and who works in a long-hours culture where taking SPL is not common practice?

If he worked in Kilburn & Strode, he’d be our first role model.  But that’s not your question – its 6 months, spending time with your children is a precious thing, work can wait.


APPG Women & Work Report 2017

Are you struggling to find the right people for the vacancies in your organisation? Is gender diversity on your agenda? Last year we hosted a ‘hidden talent action tank’ to help employers tap into the increasing number of skilled women who want to come back to work after an extended break. This week, we attended the launch of the ‘Women and Work’[1] report from a cross-party group of MPs and bring you the highlights from an employer perspective. 


The report makes nine recommendations, three are aimed at employers: 

5. Every workplace with 250 or more employees should have a carers policy detailing organisational support available for those with caring responsibilities. 

This could be cumbersome and unnecessary. In our experience what really matters to employees is being trusted to get the job done and being trusted to use flexible working in a way that works for the organisation and meets family needs. Line manager behaviours are the lynchpin.

6. Every workplace with 250 or more employees should consider putting in place paid returner programmes or returnships with guaranteed training, advice and support. 

Returner programmes can be a useful tool but they‘re not right for every organisation. See “What is a returner programme?” for the key questions to decide if a returner programme is likely to fulfill your talent pool shortages. Direct recruitment from the hidden talent pool using ‘reverse headhunters’ such as Inclusivity may be a faster, better value option.

8. Employers should promote best practice through a flexible working kitemark with official accreditation and assessment to increase flexible working visibility and actively encourage the uptake of flexible working.

Many employers we talk to are struggling to recruit women into specialist, skilled and senior roles. Employees who have built social capital in their current organisation and have crafted a flexible working arrangement that works for them are reluctant to move. We discussed the problem of ‘trapped talent’ and flexible hiring on BBC Breakfast – watch the clip here. We believe employers will benefit from advertising roles as flexible and support the APPG’s recommendation.


Shared Parental Leave

Have you found it tricky to implement Shared Parental Leave in your organisation? You’re not alone. 77% of respondents to a CIPD survey said they had to access external advice to understand the process. This headache has been for little gain as another survey of 200 employers found only 1% of men had  taken the opportunity to share their partner’s parental leave.

The view at The Talent Keeper Specialists is that SPL was introduced to normalise men caring for their children and lessen the impact of having children on women’s careers. We believe the best way to achieve this – and make it easier for employers – is to divide parental leave into three chunks: one for each parent on a ‘use it or lose it basis’ and a third for either parent.



67% of mothers in work and 64% of those not working said the high cost of childcare is a barrier to taking on more employment. [2] The Government is increasing free childcare to 30 hours from September 2017 for working families, to address this.

Our view is that employers who are experiencing talent shortages could significantly widen their candidate pool by being open to flexible working, and making this clear to candidates at the point of hiring. Read “Employers benefit by ‘talking flex’ when hiring.”


Supporting maternity returners

You know the ‘cost’ of replacing an employee is more than just the recruitment fees. Keeping and fueling existing valued and talented employees should be a priority for business. The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched the ‘Working Forward’ campaign last autumn to make UK workplaces the best they can be for pregnant and new mother employees.

We run maternity comeback workshops for returning employees and a separate session for line managers. Find out more: http://talentkeepers.co.uk/shape-the-landscape/


About The Talent Keeper Specialists

Since we started in 2012 The Talent Keeper Specialists have delivered on time, within budget and to glowing feedback from our clients and their employees at places such as Boots, Anglia Ruskin University, The Law Society of Scotland, The Institute of Chartered Accountants England & Wales, Boots, Enfield Borough Council, Oxfam, Channel 4, PayPal, Carillion and Twinings. We work with employers to shape inclusive workplace cultures and support the transitions of returning employees and women stepping into leadership roles. Watch our 2 minute film here: https://vimeo.com/187137094.


[1]  The Women and Work APPG was formed at the beginning of 2016 in response to the increasing public and political focus on the role of women in the workforce, and the acknowledgement from Government that the UK economy underuses women’s talents and misses out on a “huge economic prize”.

[2] Careers and cares: childcare and maternal labour supply, Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, 2014

Flexible Father – Richard Cahill

This post is part of our #FlexibleFathers series and we’re spinning the spotlight on tax specialist Richard Cahill who had a job offer withdrawn when he reiterated his need for flexible working. Richard has worked for Grant Thornton, Lloyds Bank, JP Morgan and Hilton.



The Talent Keeper Specialists believe flexible working is a business tool for increasing employee engagement, pumping up productivity and driving down real estate costs. It’s time for flexible working to go mainstream and for the world to move on from seeing it as the preserve of women with primary school children.

Richard, you wrote openly on LinkedIn about your experience of a job offer being withdrawn when you reiterated flexible working preferences. Why did you do that?

I was, frankly, fed up!

At the turn of the year, my wife and I sat down to discuss how we would cope with our eldest child going to school and what our family dynamics should look like.  We decided I would take on the role of picking up/dropping off at school and all that entails.

So, when a company who had actively pursued me on LinkedIn showed some interest in me, I told them upfront about the hours that would work for me. Throughout the process, I kept reminding them that the hours were more important than money and that the flexibility offered was one of the main attractions to the role.  They continued to say the hours were fine and when the offer came I was surprised the hours had been increased from 28 (what was discussed from the beginning) to 36!

I wrote back saying I was keen to work for them and asked if they could review the offer given what we had agreed.  I chased them up a week or so later to be told that after some discussion within the firm, they thought I was ‘not ready for the role’!

I was angry, and wanted somewhere to vent that anger.  People should know that this sort of practice is going on.  It’s discrimination, pure and simple.  I wanted to share this experience with others and see whether people related to it and boy do they!

How important is it that employers move away from thinking of flexible working as something primarily for mothers of young children?

That’s a great question.  It’s absolutely key that this whole agenda becomes gender neutral.  If you read the guff that companies, both big and small, churn out, saying that they believe in flexi working this, and employees welfare is paramount, in practice this has turned into this:

Women, traditionally, have been the ones to “take the hit” with regard to their careers, after having children.  Employers, are of the mindset that if they provide part time work to these women, then, condescendingly, they feel that they are doing a service to these women, offering them the chance to work and raise their kids.  Oh, lucky them!

However, these companies are also doing it because they feel that women will, incorrectly I must stress, be content with “their lot” and have no aspiration to move on.  They view men as the ones to have the urge to progress.

That is simply unfair and incorrect.  Women want careers as much as men.  Men are not simply entitled to a career because of their sex.  Women as well as men should be allowed to progress as far as their ability etc will allow.  Only by getting away from this old traditional view of “women’s part time work” and see flexible work for both parents, then we can actually progress as a society that truly supports the role that both parents can do within the family.  There are no set roles!

How would it benefit employers to ‘talk flex’ in job adverts and in interviews?

I feel that honesty is always the best policy.  If the role is truly a flexible one and someone can achieve every aspect of it and won’t be viewed in any other way than being integral to the business for what they do, then offer the role as flexible.

I think the problem starts where employers, in their drive to look good to potential employees, offer flexible employment.  However, once the person gets in the role, they quickly find that although they are only contracted to do, say 25 hours a week, the role demands far greater.  That “part time” role becomes full time on a part time salary – not what was advertised!

So, it’s crucial that employers talk the talk, but also walk the talk.

People are frightened to mention that they want flexible employment in interviews and feel that if they do say something, the role won’t be offered to them.  That’s wrong.  Employers have to open up about realistic expectations and they will find that their workforce engages better with the firm and productivity rises.

What do you think it will take for flexible working to become the norm?

It needs a shift in societal expectations, and that needs everyone on board.  So, not a lot then!

I think Government needs to give direction.  It needs people to realise that companies are only as good as their employees.  Companies need the best out of their employees and frankly, that does not mean that a 9-5 (if you’re lucky) culture is the only way.

What it needs is the realisation that people work best when they are happy and engaged in what they are doing.  In my world, that means that parents are able to be around for their children when needed, and allowed to work around the demands of the family.  That could be either mother or father, or even both.

In practice that means that people can work remotely, evenings when the kids are asleep, whenever they can to fit around family life.  I’m not saying that people haven’t been talking about this for a long time, I’m aware they have.  What is needed now is the shift in thinking that flexible work is not the sole domain of the mother.  It’s time we saw everyone as equals in all aspects of life.

How are you going to approach the ‘f’ word in future recruitment conversations?

So, I’ve said that honesty is the best policy.  I’ve also said that people are not getting roles when they talk about flexibility in their interviews, as happened to me!  Logic, therefore, would lead to a conclusion that I don’t mention it!

However, I’m not that kind of bloke.  I’m the son of a Yorkshire mum and say things as I find them.  I’ll continue to be up front and say what realistically works for me.  I wouldn’t want to work for a firm that did not view flexibility as a given.  I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to work for someone who appreciates me for being me the person, rather than me the robot who sits at a work portal for my allotted hours.

Employers have got to wake up and see that if the best person for the role wants flexibility that can work for them and improves their culture.  It’s a selling point to other potential members of the workforce – “look, here’s a firm that can actually show me that they value flexible working”!

What would you like employers and Government to do?

Government have got to drive the agenda.  They need to realise that by offering shared parental leave, this has opened the door to men, as well as women, being further engaged in their child’s upbringing.  However, once the 12 months are over, that doesn’t mean that the dad should go back to being the workhorse and the wife needs to ensure that she can juggle the housework as well as her career.  Those days are gone.  Move on.  Men can do housework, they can put kids to bed, they can cook!  Women can work, women can lead companies, and women can take on the world!

Government needs to help society realise this.  Society needs to get real.  Depending on the statistics you look at, but I saw one that said 54% of all households now have a female main breadwinner.  Even if you disagree with the statistic, it’s clear that women are going to achieve more and more in the workplace going forward.

What it means now is that family dynamics are changing and they need to be supported by the Government and employers to get it right.  Flexible employment is here to stay but in the future, it needs to be available to all.  I’m happy to be lending my voice to that call!


We thank Richard Cahill for speaking frankly and for his post on LinkedIn. Our founder, Jessica Chivers, made the business case for flexible working for all on BBC Breakfast last month. We run workshops on ‘managing flexibly’ and ‘career progression for flexible workers’ to help both line managers and individuals make flexible working work.

What is a returner programme?

A returner programme takes the concept of an internship and makes it relevant to people who have taken a career break and are looking to return to work. Typical programmes enable the individual to transition back into the workplace through a structured and specifically tailored programme. Participants either undertake a piece of relevant project work or step into a potentially available role providing them with the ability to demonstrate their suitability for longer term employment.

Watch a film about how O2 set up a pilot returner programme.


Is a returner programme relevant to my organisation?

If you agree with at least three of the following five statements, a returner programme is likely to be a useful tool for your organisation:

1. Your organisation has a stated goal (publicly or internally) of moving towards gender parity in specific areas or levels of your organisation.

2. There is a shortage of women in your industry.

3. Your CEO and/or executive team is aware of the link between gender diversity and increased financial performance.

4. Your organisation is struggling in one or more areas/levels to recruit and retain great* people.

5. Your internal or external recruitment team is failing to create gender balanced shortlists or you are hiring less women than you would like.

* We all have different definitions of what great is. We mean someone who delivers on agreed objectives and does it in such a way that other employees and clients would miss him or her if they left your business.


Which organisations are returner programmes NOT suitable for?

  • Organisations who ‘measure’ who’s doing a good job by how much time they spend in the office
  • Organisations who are uncomfortable with the concept of flexible working
  • Organisations with a CEO who doesn’t know/believe research showing the link between gender diversity and profitability.


Why is it necessary to run a programme for returners?

  • Most career returners have been applying to normal jobs and they don’t even get invited to an interview – this has resulted in a large talent pool that really wants to get back to work but is unable to do so. In a country with purported skills shortages it is crazy that we overlook this market.
  • Most jobs have countless applications and a recruiter or an internal resourcing team will short-list 4 or 5 for the line manager to review. The one with the CV gap is the one most likely to be taken off due to the biases. In 2012 there was a fascinating piece of research done in the US by a business called The Ladders[i]. Utilising scientific eye-tracking equipment they analysed how long the average recruiter looks at a CV, done over ten weeks. The average? Six seconds. And they look at your Current Title & Company and the Dates first. So if the first thing they see for a Returner is dates that highlight a break and no current employer then what hope is there for those six seconds?
  • There is still a stigma around flexible working in many organisations. Forward thinking businesses are embracing it, but overall far too many businesses suffer from presenteeism and clock watching. Many women when returning from a career break will require some form of flexibility in their role. Again during the recruitment process we are told that they are often uninvited to interview the minute they mention part-time or flexible working.

[i] http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-recruiters-look-at-during-the-6-seconds-they-spend-on-your-resume-2012-4?IR=T


What’s the value of a returner scheme?

We believe there are five key points of value.

For the organisation:

1. Talent and technical skills are on offer that your business may not have been able to         access in your internal pipelines.

2. Candidates who have taken a break from their career bring diversity of experience           and thought to your business challenges.

3. Younger women want to see more, older women in their businesses; they want role         models and want to see working women at all stages of their career.

For the individual returner:

4. Participants are supported during the transition period through coaching and                   invaluable conversations with peers on the programme.

5. Delivery of a relevant and valued piece of work breeds self-confidence when seeking       further employment. Participants go on to target roles commensurate with their skills         and abilities.

How long should it be, what should you pay?

There is no one size fits all approach to timing and pay.  Some schemes last 12 weeks, some 16 weeks and some are 6 months. Pay is usually dependent on what level of returner the organisation is seeking to attract. The best return to work programmes have had dual bandings if applicable to the talent presented. The most important thing is to ensure the returner, if hired after the programme, goes on to a salary that is commensurate with the role they are offered.

If you would like to know more

The Talent Keeper Specialists have partnered with Inclusivity (www.inclusivity.co.uk) to create a fresh, start-to-finish returner offering we think beats what’s currently on the market. From sourcing, screening and selection, through to induction, coaching and employability skills sessions during the programme.

If you’re not quite there yet and have cultural issues to tackle around flexible working or conscious/unconscious biases for example, let’s have a conversation. We design and deliver solutions to shape inclusive, positive workplaces. Please e-mail hello@talentkeepers.co.uk or call 01727 856169.

Talk to Jessica Chivers jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or Stephanie Dillon stephanie@inclusivity.co.uk or call 01727 856169.





Involved fathers, committed professionals

Committed professionals can be involved fathersOn a recent project for the Law Society of Scotland we heard some great examples of men doing their very best to be active fathers whilst still delivering commercial goals. Here are men in their own words reflecting on how to get off to a good start as a new father. 

“Be involved, be upfront with clients, prioritise sleep.”

“Your kids are only young once. If you don’t read to them or put them to bed now, you never will. And the benefits to your mental health are amazing. If you are zombified by a poor night’s sleep, tell your clients. Most of them will understand. Those that do not are likely to be “those clients” anyway. Sometimes, moving to another room is a survival technique if you want an uninterrupted night’s sleep – just be prepared to make up for it in other ways. Keep a picture of your children in easy view in your office; if your clients/colleagues/whoever are difficult, a look at your kids will make you smile no matter what. If you hadn’t before, learn to say no and leave the office promptly from time to time. If the culture is such that you’re expected to be there all hours God sends, you probably need to re-examine your priorities. First day of school? Take the day off and be there for them.”

Senior male solicitor, private practice @longmores

Chea Meakins“Draw boundaries, be focussed, get home for bathtime.”

“My wife and I worked out a routine fairly early on after our daughter was born. I would always be home to do the evening bath (subject to the unavoidable marketing/seminar engagements, but I try to limit these to 1 per week where possible). This means that I always have to work to a deadline and leave work at a certain time. Without this there is always the temptation to stay that little bit longer because there is always something else that can be done… The bath/getting ready for bed routine means I am always guaranteed at least one hour with my daughter per day. This sounds so little on paper but in reality a lot can be achieved within that time. I usually get back home an hour before bath time so in practice I get 2 -2.5 hours. This is also a huge relief to my wife who appreciates me taking over at the end of the day for those last few hours.”

Che Meakins, Solicitor, Rayden Solicitors @RaydensLaw


“Eat together and have a planned weekly late night at the office.”

“I’ve been very lucky to be able to balance work and fatherhood to give me lots of time with my daughter, and I am now nearly a year qualified and I feel I have also progressed hugely as a solicitor in the same time.   As I live walking distance from the office I would go home most lunch times and see my wife and child. I tried to ensure that I took my lunch each day to guarantee this time at home. I also designated Thursday evening as a ‘late night’ which I would work late before heading to my regular football practice. This meant I could head home on time the rest of the week. Having that one evening each week was really important allowing me to catch up or get on top of things outside office hours.”

Liam Colville, Solicitor, Debenhams Ottaway @DebenhamsOtt 


“Flexible working has made me more efficient.”

“There are 3 options in my view: Option 1 is ‘the continue as before’ in the knowledge that others are looking after your child well. Option 2 is to say that being a father is considerably more important than a career so you shift towards the “work to live” view. Option 3 is a mid-point between the other 2. If you intend to take option 3 then my suggestions would be as follows. First try to build a platform of a work pattern that is agreeable to both work and home. Come to an agreement with your partner that you feel allows you to be the involved Dad that you want to be whilst still allowing you to maintain your career progression (albeit at a slightly diminished rate for a period). Be disciplined. Leave work when you have agreed. This may mean having to say no to certain meetings etc. Equally, agree regular days when you will work late so you know that you can focus on work on those days. I have also found that my focus on making the flexible working pattern work (and be seen to work) has made me more efficient at work. My time management has improved due to my focus on, for example, getting everything done so I can leave to be home for bath time. Having both the set agreement and the discipline has, paradoxically, given me the flexibility to adapt such as to busy times at work where some flex in the agreement is needed or to take calls at home etc.”

Chris Purcell, Solicitor, in-house third sector.



The following prompts are designed to help you consider how you can make a positive start to combining fatherhood and career.

  1. 1) How much leave will you take and when?
  2. 2) How much time will you strive to give to work and family each week?
  3. 3) What are your top professional priorities and how will you fit them into the time you have allocated to work?
  4. 4) What points do you need to discuss with your line manager?
  5. 5) What one thing can you start to do differently for the good of family life?


The Talent Keeper Specialists help men adjust to fatherhood through in-house seminars and one to one executive coaching. If you got something from this post you might also like:

Employers benefit by ‘talking flex’ when recruiting

Employers benefit from talking flex

In this opinion post Jessica Chivers shares her views on the competitive advantage gained by employers who state upfront on job adverts and at interview that there’s scope to talk flexible working.

“Should I mention that I’m really looking for four days a week rather than FT?”

“Will I put them off if I ask about flexible working at interview?”

“At what point in the hiring process is it best to ask about flexible options?”

These questions, and variations of, are commonplace in executive coaching sessions where women are exploring how to move on and/or up in their career.

It strikes me that many employers are missing a very real competitive advantage by not placing the words “up for talking flexibility’ on job adverts seeking mid to senior professionals for full time roles. This is particularly relevant if the organisation has made a public commitment to increasing the number of women at the top of their business, as say McKinsey has done. The employer is under no obligation to offer flex but by including these words, they’ve probably doubled the pool of people who might apply. A winning strategy, surely?

As an aside, McKinsey have just revealed their latest gender equality research (in conjunction with LeanIn.org) and show that women’s journey to the top is still appallingly slow. Change needs to come quickly.

In reality the onus is all too often on the candidates’ shoulders to ask about flexibility, and with so many stories about women noticing a negative change in the recruiter when they ask, it’s no wonder women hold back from applying for FT roles.

Where jobs adverts make no mention of flexibility, it would be useful if the recruiting manager ‘put it out there’ at the start of the interview (and not just when they’re interviewing females of a certain age – men want more flex too). “We’re advertising for a full time member of the team to be based predominantly in Manchester but depending on who we meet, there’s scope for the role to be done flexibly. We can talk about that further down the line.” There, easy.

I’m noticing a growing problematic pattern of women ‘choosing’ to stay in jobs they’ve outgrown because it gives them the flex they want (or more likely need) to be able to have a decent, wholesome family life where kids get help with their homework and at least one meal gets eaten together as a family.* There’s a belief that the only way to maintain this flex is to put it on hold, work full time for a new employer and prove oneself again (a hazy concept, but that’s an issue for another post) and then negotiate flex. The difficulty with this is it’s usually not that easy to switch to being an FT worker if you have children too young to have a key to the front door. For starters, the chances are you won’t be able to up your childcare to cover it.

A final point to ponder: could it be that the journey towards gender balance at the top of our organizations is slow because women are staying put when it’s time to move on? That they’re sacrificing stretch for flex and just not going after the next job? Giving women and men permission to discuss flexible working could be the key to change.

I’m optimistic that smart employers will soon start to print words to the effect of “up for talking flex” on their job ads and that their businesses will be all the better for it. I suspect we need some ballsy HR Directors to tap their CEOs on the shoulder to make it happen. Are you out there?

What do you think? Are you explicit about flexibility in your recruitment activities? Have you asked about flexibility at interview and had a good response?


* Yes, there are people without children who crave flex too. There are people with horses that need turning out each morning, there are people with elderly caring responsibilities and there are people who just want to have a darn good time at the weekend living a different life by the sea. They all want or need flex too and if they can get the job done without having their backsides on their swivel chair from 8.30-5.30pm every day then why not?)


PR daddy challenges culture and works flexibly


Chris Reed is the Founder of Restless Communications, an agency that helps organisations communicate at the speed, frequency and with the tone required for a social media age. He is @chris_reed on Twitter. Many moons ago he asked to work part-time and started to shift a culture.


Asking to work part-time at one of London’s top ten PR agencies

I was an Account Director in one of London’s top 10 PR agencies when my first son was born – back in 2003. I knew I wanted to buck the trend a bit and spend as much time with him as I could. But at the same time I also wanted to progress my career, so I knew I had to demonstrate to my colleagues and clients that it was possible to juggle work and home life.

And at the time, I did feel a bit of a social stigma. I was a bloke, rushing out the door several times a week just after 5pm knowing that many of my colleagues had another couple of hours left at their desks.

It helped that, at the time I was (and still am) pretty geeky and actually quite enjoyed tinkering with the various email and telephone systems to establish seamless call-forwarding and email/remote server access so that I remained in constant contact with the office. If people needed to call they could, and they also knew that I would always log on after bath time to clear any outstanding work.

Going against cultural norms

Later on, when both of my kids were a bit older I asked for, and was allowed to go down to working 3 days a week, so that I could spend more time with the kids, doing more drop-offs, collection and kids’ teas, and also so I could test whether I could juggle that with working for myself. I haven’t looked back since. It turns out I really am a ‘self-starter’ after all. Female colleagues had certainly negotiated four days and one or two did three days a week, but I was certainly the first bloke to do it. It was a few years ago now, but something I was very proud of. And it suited me perfectly.

Colleague reactions – being grown-up and forward-thinking

I have to say, that at the time my bosses were brilliant. The agency had always had a forward-thinking and grown-up approach to career development and I think they realised that they’d get the best out of me if we were both transparent and accommodating about what we both wanted. If/when they needed more of my time (working from home or in the office), I always found it. But at the same time, I was now much more in control of my diary. If I wanted to take two hours off in the middle of the afternoon to collect one of my kids and run a few errands with them I could. I simply made up the time elsewhere.

I can’t say for sure whether it really changed attitudes within the agency, but at the very least I think it showed other new parents that there were all sorts of ways to achieve a good work/life balance. I like to think it set the scene for more people having that proper grown-up chat about what they want, how they can still deliver excellent client service, and how they can push their career forward, even when working fewer hours or having less visibility in the office.

Once you ask and it gets a yes, then….ask for a little more

Once I’d broached the subject about what I actually wanted from work, and from my employer – and got a positive response, I actually felt much more empowered. I felt better about what I actually did, and much more valued as a result.  (Hey, if they’re happy for me to do this, then they obviously think I’m doing a pretty good job), which in turn gave me more confidence when it came to financial discussions than before.

Having those discussions about achieving the work/life balance I wanted definitely made it easier to broach other sensitive conversations at work over money. It was actually quite liberating.

I’ve heard some people say the complete opposite – things like, ‘well work have let me go down to three or four days, so I shouldn’t push my luck and ask for a pay rise or bonus alongside everyone else.’ But I’d take the opposite view. Everyone knows that part-timers routinely work more than their contractual hours and you’re probably more productive when you are working, but also, if your employers are happy for you to reduce your hours then they clearly value what you do – probably more than you realised.

Any tops tips/encouraging thoughts you can share about how to affect culture change, even in just the smallest of ways…?

I was very lucky to work somewhere with a strong culture of personal development, and with hindsight, I think that’s one of the fundamental building blocks of any successful employment, and certainly any successful agency.

From an employer’s perspective the more you understand what your employee really wants, rather than just a pay cheque at the end of the month, and the more you can accommodate this, the happier your employees will be. It’s one of the sure fire ways of keeping people motivated and delivering great work.

And from an employee’s perspective, I can’t stress enough that even though the first conversation might be hard when you want to discuss changing the way you work, or telling your boss what really makes you tick (e.g. I’m in a band which practices every Thursday at 6.30 so I need to leave on time), most bosses aren’t ogres.

As long as you can see things from their perspective as and when you ask, and demonstrate how you can help them avoid problems at the same time as them letting you do what you want, then you’ll generally have a fair hearing.

I’ve also learned, since setting up Restless Communications, my own agency, that most clients are also remarkably relaxed about the culture you want to engender within your agency. 90% of the time if a client asks me for a meeting or call and I reply, actually, could we shift it because that’s when I’m on the school run – how about this other time, they’re very happy to do so. And if they can’t they can’t, I’ll obviously sort something else out.

The main thing I learned all those years ago, which I now put into practice and would encourage others to always do so is simple: Don’t be afraid to ask. Always see things from your employer’s perspective as you do so, but don’t be afraid to ask.


Talent Fueller – Sue McLean, Morrison & Foerster LLP.

McLean_Sue High ResTalent Fueller Interview with Sue McLean, Morrison & Foerster LLP.

“Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’

Sue is a senior lawyer in MoFo’s European technology practice and the founder and chair of the MoFo Women London Affinity Group(i) – a group that is associated with MoFo’s firm-wide Women’s Strategy Committee. She was the recent guinea-pig for a new firm ‘Transition Time’ initiative, which supports the return of women post maternity (which she’s now done three times).

‘Transition time’ at Morrison & Foerster

Unusually for an American firm, Morrison & Foerster has several policies that support the return of women and men who’ve taken time out. One of these is ‘transition time’  and another is the automatic right to work reduced hours for one year following a return from maternity, paternity or adoption leave.  They’ve recently been named best firm for work-life balance at the third annual Americas Women in Business in Law Awards(ii) and were shortlisted in the same category at this year’s Euromoney Europe Women in Business Law Awards.

“There was an acknowledgement that prior to, and after, taking maternity leave or parental leave, you need some transition time to allow you to ramp down and ramp up to get back to where you were before. Lawyers all have billing targets and now for the month before you leave and the month following your return, these are cut by 50%.”

Flexible working in a law firm. Really?

“I think in all companies, people are slightly nervous of the concept of reduced hours/flexible working, particularly if they have never had anyone in their team working reduced hours before.  So you have a pilot and then everyone goes ‘oh yes, its fine.’

Certainly, in my experience, what tends to happen here is that when that [automatic] year ends, the arrangement just continues, if you want it to. I don’t know anybody, who, once they have had a flexible working arrangement in place, has had it taken away from them.

We have had many reduced hours returnees within the firm and it is certainly not a barrier to partnership. Indeed, we have had a number of reduced hours returnees make partner whilst on reduced hours. A couple of years ago, for example, four of the fifteen lawyers promoted to partner were currently on, or had been on, a reduced hours schedule.

Tell us some tales of colleagues working flexibly….

“I currently work four days a week and one of those days I work from home. A former colleague in my department worked flexibly for a decade. He wanted to live between London and Ireland so he worked from home on a Monday and a Friday, and he came to London on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless he had meetings, in which case, he swapped his days around. So, we have always been open to flexible working in my team.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ here. People can agree arrangements that suit them. For example, one of my colleagues in Berlin does some short days and some long days because she wants to be able to pick her daughter up from school. So a couple of days she leaves at 3pm and so as she works full time, she works late on the other days.

It’s certainly not just a UK or European practice though.  We have a male partner in the U.S. who was made a partner when he worked four days a week, which remains pretty unusual for a law firm. He wanted to spend more time with his young family. We also have lawyers who work reduced hours for other reasons. For example, we had a lawyer in the U.S. who worked even fewer days – he was an artist in his spare time and worked reduced hours to create more time for his art. I thought that the fact we enabled that was brilliant and shows that we’re pretty enlightened.

50:50 women and men new partners at Morrison & Foerster

We have a global Women’s Strategy Committee (co-chaired by a senior male partner and senior female partner) which was formed several years ago – partly in recognition that we wanted to increase the number of senior level women lawyers. As with many businesses, having more women in leadership positions remains a key challenge for most law firms.

We carried out a study and found that we’re generally good at internal promotions (our latest new partner list was 50/50 women/men), our biggest issue is in lateral hiring.

The majority of lateral hires are men and we asked ‘why is that?’ Evidence suggests that one of the reasons may be that women who make partner at one firm and have a working arrangement that works for them and their family may be reluctant to leave. A number of observers think it is because women are more likely to view their practices as being integrated with their in-firm networks. Another reason we suspect may contribute to the issue – and this has been discussed a lot in the context of the UK woman on boards debate – is that historically, headhunters and specifications for lateral hires may have been slanted unconsciously in favour of men. We now consider this issue carefully and try to scrutinise our job specs thoroughly to help rule out criteria that may put women off from applying.

Final thoughts?

The more we have men working flexibly, as well as the women, the more it becomes the norm.

I’ve not had a bad reaction from my team in terms of me working flexibly, because there isn’t a culture of presenteeism here. People know that if I leave early, then I will be logging on later if I need to.  Flexibility has to be two-way; if I was the kind of person who said ‘I am working these days and you must never contact me on a Friday and I am leaving the office at this time and that’s it,’ then that’s not going to work as we are in a client-driven business. As long as the clients are happy, it shouldn’t matter. I know the people I work with directly, don’t care if I leave the office at 5pm and then log on at 8pm, as long as my work gets done and the clients are happy. When I compare my experience as a working mum compared to friends at other firms, I must say I feel incredibly fortunate.

(i) Affinity Groups. Of the firm’s 20 affinity groups, 11 are expressly committed to providing women lawyers with an internal support network to help them advance within the firm and the profession, including D.C./NoVa Women, Los Angeles Women, MoFo Women London, New York Asian Women Associates, New York Women, New York Women of Color, Palo Alto Women, San Diego Women, San Francisco Women, San Francisco Working Moms, and San Francisco Women of Color. Each of these groups regularly sponsors programmes that address work-life balance, parenting, and reduced-hours arrangements.

Here are the groups: New York Women, New York Black Women’s Group, Nippon Women, Palo Alto Women, San Diego Women, San Francisco Women, San Francisco Working Moms, Berlin Women, DC/NoVa Women, Los Angeles Women, Los Angeles Working Parents, MoFoWomen London, New York Asian Women Associates

(ii) Awards. MoFo has also recently been recognized as one of the best U.S. law firms for women by Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC, a U.S. consulting firm. The annual survey identifies the top 50 U.S. law firms that have created and use best practices in promoting and retaining women lawyers. According to the survey, the law firms included on this year’s list lead the industry in supporting flexible work arrangements, offering generous paid parental leave, and ensuring that lawyers who take advantage of family-friendly programs are not excluded from partnership or leadership tracks. MoFo is among a select group of firms where the most recent partnership classes have included lawyers who have worked part-time schedules at the time of their promotions.  http://www.workingmother.com/content/2014-working-mother-amp-flex-time-lawyers-50-best-law-firms-women.



Talent Fueller – Melissa Geiger, KPMG

Melissa Geiger (427x640)

Talent Fueller Interview with Melissa Geiger, KPMG. “Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’

Melissa Geiger was the youngest female to make partner at KPMG age 32. Now 38 and with two young children she is committed to being a role-model to others and chairs the KPMG Network of Women (KNOW).  She was instrumental in pushing female career advancement into the spotlight when the firm went through a leadership contest in 2012.

On influencing managing partner, Simon Collins to see women in leadership as a priority for KPMG:

“I decided the leadership contest was a good time to debate women on boards. KNOW hosted an event which all of the leadership candidates attended, along with a lot of our partners (male and female) and more junior staff. They came because they wanted to hear what was going to be an important part of the leadership campaign. Simon, who already feels personally very strongly about inclusion, has gone on to make diversity one of the key things on KPMG’s agenda and Stephen Frost (previously the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for LOCOG and played a key role in the London Olympics) who is our new head of diversity and inclusion, is brilliant. One of the first things he did was meet with me as the Chair of KNOW. I feel that KNOW has a key role to play in relation to getting the key messages on the table about gender equality at the point when we can really make a difference.

I hope this year there will be more women making partner at KPMG, because we are focussing on the needs of our business and our clients and the identification of talented and successful women for senior roles.”

Melissa’s own team is a 50/50 male/female split of partners which is out of step with the 84:16 ratio of partners across KPMG as a whole as at the time of writing.

Your team is an exemplar for embracing flexible working – a key tool for employees to have a ‘full and rounded life’ whether or not they have children. Tell us more:

In our team, three of the four partners have at some point in the last two years, not worked full time. One partner (a man) has five children and works three days a week. Another partner has done 90% over the last two years to give herself longer holidays – she still works five days but it means that instead of 6 weeks holidays, she gets 9/10 weeks. When I came back from maternity leave I tried different things and then went back to 100% when I was ready to do that. We’ve set a progressive tone for the rest of the team and I think it’s really important it comes from the top.

Amongst our director population some of our male directors do ‘glide time’ – instead of doing 9.30 until 5.30, they officially do their hours as 10 until 6 which means they can do the drop off for school and their spouses/partners do the pickup. And it works in reverse with some people working 8am-4pm. These two recognised glide times enable parents to actively participate in family life, although it’s not only for parents. I can think of rugby players and people who keep horses who taken up glide time to better manage their ability to do these other pursuits.

I think practises like these are very important because the next generation are expecting it. We are competing, and if we are not flexible, we won’t get the best talent. And if we don’t get the best talent, we don’t do the best job.

You mentioned your return to work – how is KPMG helping maternity leavers make a smooth and confident return?

It’s very difficult coming back to work after having a baby, it’s a bit of a culture shock. We do lots of things to help people get back up to speed including technical workshops to cover what they have missed – in my case it was tax legislation – because you really need to know what’s changed. Beyond up-skilling technically there’s support in the form of workshops and having various conversations with a sponsor who will ensure that any issues are resolved. The maternity programme is for everyone, all levels. Melanie Richards, a fellow Partner and Member of the Board, has been hugely supportive to me when I came back from maternity leave. She set a great example for me and so I feel like I need to set a good example for all the people in my team. And there’s a certain amount of supporting each other and that needs to come all the way from the top.

Additionally there’s access to emergency childcare which allows me a nanny for four days a year or a nursery place for eight days – and without cost to me. I’ve used it and been open about when I’ve had childcare issues which is helpful as it sets the tone for others to use it.

Your thoughts on what more there is to do to support mothers’ career advancement?

We need to have what my group is like as the culture across the whole business and that needs to come from the top. I think Simon has done a lot to start pushing that in his leadership, through talking from both the heart and head, and I think the more he does that, the more that culture will push through the organisation and through middle management and the better it will get overall.

I think there is an issue of people either not believing they are entitled to do things, or there aren’t enough people in leadership who are like myself – young, female and a parent, married with two children.  When you get promoted, as I have, it is vitally important that you use that position to support others and support best practice.

The question for us is that when women return, how do we keep the progression going? How do you get promoted? The first hurdle is that you come back and into the job you were in; you manage all of the plates at that point and then you get an additional plate because you’ve got to manage your home life and your child also. Hurdle number two is then how to progress my career to the next level? That’s the bit we are focussing on – we get a good level of returners coming back (about 97%) but how many of those get promoted? Asking these questions, and acting on the answers, is what I think will move the number of female partners on.

Is there someone in your organisation who’s making efforts to keep, support and stretch female and/or returning talent that we could shine a light on? Go on, make their day and put us in touch.

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