Nothing sets the cat among the pigeons more than new employment regulations. As an employer, it is all too easy to see the downside rather than the positives. But it doesn’t need to be like this.
Sometimes regulation provides you with just the prod you need to get something done, and to make you think – how can we, as a business, go beyond the minimum that is required by law? How could this be a real game-changer?
So when in April of this year the government introduced new laws to enable parents to share leave when a baby is born, we wanted to take the opportunity to do something really bold, that would put us at the front of a social change for the better.
We know that diversity of thinking is at the heart of success – and that’s something we hold dear at Accenture. We want to attract the best to work here, and we want to keep them. By encouraging and supporting our working parents and their families, we hope to create a level playing field for everyone.
At Accenture, we believe that nothing will change for of women in the workforce until we start offering equal chances for all our employees to be involved in those first critical few months of a child’s life. The way we do things at Accenture is all about improving the diversity of workforce, and helping everyone to have a work life balance. The new law is an opportunity for parents to make decisions on childcare as a couple, rather than only women being able to take substantial time off.
Accenture’s maternity policy had been one of the most generous in the UK for a number of years. Combined with our efforts to create flexible careers for mothers it won us awards, and got us to the top of league tables like Where Women Want to Work.
But mothers are only one part of the puzzle. What about the bigger question – Where Do Parents Want to Work?
Paternity leave is short. Just two weeks — no time at all when set against the demands of clients and work. Making Accenture a fair and good place to work meant we wanted to guarantee Shared Parental Leave was truly effective as an option. It’s why we didn’t go for half measures – we created a policy that allows a truly equal approach to time off while receiving full pay. It’s part of a broader drive to make us more accessible, by allowing both parents to play a greater part in the lives of their young families.
Personally I also feel confident that spending time with those families will make all of us better team managers – more understanding of the demands of a family, more appreciative of the commitment it takes, and just how many plates we need to keep spinning at once. Earlier in my career, I watched my own boss adjust to his role as a young father and choose an active, hands on parenting role. This served as a massive encouragement to those in his team – both men and women — to have permission to make similar choices themselves.
It reduces the inequality of the effect of having children on the careers of mothers as it makes childcare an experience common to both parents – which can only improve the career chances of those women, and will have a positive effect on the numbers of women at all levels in an organisation. All the research suggests that if both parents share childcare in the first year after childbirth then this patterns of shared parenting is likely to continue throughout a child’s life.
Parents are of course only one kind of carer – Accenture employs people with pressing and critical demands on their personal lives. Caring for parents, siblings, partners – or quite simply playing roles in their community as volunteers and supporters. We already do a lot to help them find the time and space to play those roles and we continue to look for ways of doing more. Responsibility comes in many forms; parenting is just one of the tiles in the mosaic, and just one of the roles we may play over a lifetime.
Cultural change does not happen overnight – when I look back over the last ten years we have been through a sea change in our working culture and we are still only at the beginning. But it’s policies like these that underpin the broader shift that we want to see happening in Accenture: a move towards a more accepting, diverse and enlightened place to have a career.