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.

 

If employers REALLY want more men to take Shared Parental Leave here’s how

What if employers invited expectant fathers to tell them they are expecting a baby? How might this affect the take-up of Shared Parental Leave?

“They’re just hasn’t been the take-up we thought there would be,” is what I hear most often when I ask clients and HR practitioners about shared parental leave. This week at a WISE Campaign knowledge share event on flexible working Eleanor Silverio, UK Benefits Policy Lead at Shell, was candid about their low take-up of SPL at Shell. She explained that in their experience fathers are not actively seeking to be primary carers home alone with baby, and those who do take SPL leave are doing so for other reasons. These reasons may include practical necessity such as a mother with an injury or a desire to take a sabbatical. An HR Director I spoke to a couple of years ago took additional paternity leave (APL), as it was then, to address troubles with his ageing parents and APL was a good vehicle for taking time out. It was not out of a desire to care for his son instead of being at work.

The barriers to men taking SPL have been well-documented (the two biggest ones being lack of financial viability, as men are on average the higher earners, and it going against cultural norms). In a piece I wrote three years ago on the business benefits of active fathers I argued that SPL would flop unless parental leave was sliced into three with a proportion dedicated to the father on a use-it-or-lose-it basis that is well paid. This would serve to speed up cultural change.

But who wants cultural change? Do employers? A shift towards co-parenting and it being equally likely a father takes a significant period of leave to care for his baby as a mother is good for women’s careers and children’s development. HOWEVER, it doesn’t make sense for individual employers to expend much energy convincing their daddy employees to take SPL unless:

1.      The mother of their child is an employee at the same organisation and

2.      She occupies a middle to senior role and

3.      The organisation is keen to keep female brains in the business (because they’re aware of the commercial benefits of a gender-balanced senior team).

If employers really do want fathers to take-up SPL they need to start asking these employees to let them know that they are expecting. This is the start of cultural change and can be achieved through some simple internal comms, including stories of high profile men in the organisation or wider industry who have taken time out. This raises awareness of what SPL is, that it’s OK to take it and how it could be of benefit to the individual. Women returning from maternity leave are fresh, motivated and come with  new perspectives and solutions to their organisation’s challenges – and with support they quickly return or exceed their previous peak performance. They’re assets and it’s about time we treated them as such and encouraged fathers to get in on the act too.

The Talent Keeper Specialists are in the business of keeping, engaging and boosting the performance of returning employees be they on maternity, adoption, shared parental, sick leave or sabbatical. We want to do more work with fathers and hope the profile of participants at our Comeback Community workshops changes to include more men over the next five years.

This post was first published on LinkedIn 2/3/17. Today, 18/2/18, the UK Government has announced a ‘Share the Joy’ campaign to encourage more men to take Shared Parental Leave.

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