Working in the world of advertising doesn't normally come with many perks (surely the 'glamorous' job is enough...?). It's all 'work hard', 'play hard' - but no 'parent hard'. So no wonder many of us 'agency girls' leave the industry in our 30s. But are businesses missing a trick when it comes to improving mat leave to help attract and retain brilliant people? Now that insurer Aviva is offering six months parental leave on full pay to both mums and dads suggest that some businesses are finally cottoning on to the fact that brilliant parental leave is a great way to attract, retain and motivate their employees. But they are an exception, and many employers are falling way behind.
CAREER VS MAT LEAVE
Though my 20s and early 30s maternity leave entitlement was a serious debate when me and my friends where thinking about a career move. Even when we were nowhere near trying for a baby. It set up a dilemma between the importance of career happiness versus family happiness. "Do I stay where I am despite hating my job because the mat leave is good?", "Do I leave a job I love to find a better mat deal?", "Do I put off going freelance / starting a business until I've had children so I can get the mat leave?"
For many reasons I put a middle finger up to The Man (ha - appropriate) a couple of years ago and went freelance pre-baby. Career-wise I'm the happiest I've ever been. But now the parenting phase looms - despite over 12 years of well paid taxes - my entitlement is minimal.
GUESS WHAT? EMPLOYERS CAN ATTRACT TALENT WITH GOOD MAT LEAVE
I've come to terms with my lot, but the fact that women are making career decisions - even early on - based on mat leave entitlement, should send a message to employers: you can attract brilliant female talent by merely providing an above average mat leave policy. Fantastic. Yet most businesses are still reluctant. Perhaps because the value of women or, more specifically, mothers is just not recognised enough? No wonder many women leave the advertising industry in their 30s! But as men's voices are getting louder in the call for more support to be more active in their children's lives, it would seem that pat leave will soon have the same attraction.
THERE ARE SHINING EXAMPLES
Aviva has been very high profile for being an exception in offering MEN equality. But there are quieter shining examples for mat leave. I met up with an old uni friend, Kasia Kurowska, after 12 years. Not a lot had changed. Apart from the baby in tow. And I wanted to share a blog she'd written about her experience and thoughts on mat leave working with Children North East.
KASIA, OVER TO YOU:
Maternity leave. For me that has meant eight months off work to look after our new cherub. I didn’t take a gap year like many peers in my younger years, so maternity leave for me felt like my chance for that ‘gap’, a new life experience away from the 9 to 5.
But now into my fifth month off work, and with thoughts growing in my mind of returning, I am struck by how lucky I am to have been given this opportunity. Children North East has a great maternity leave policy which means they have topped up my statutory entitlements for around six months. In previous organisations all I would have received was statutory, which would have put us on or below the poverty line.
So why do I feel lucky?
Well, it turns out that maternity leave and paid maternity leave is a recent phenomenon in Britain. Statutory maternity pay was introduced in 1987 and it wasn’t until 1993 that coverage was extended to all working women, in order to bring Britain into compliance with a European Commission Directive.
So on more than one occasion since going on my leave I have thought about how it is not a God given right to have well paid maternity leave. But why should employers offer employees any more than the statutory minimum?
A quick Google search does not offer me many answers. Search entries are mainly focused on explaining statutory maternity leave rights. So I am left to my own thoughts which are namely:
To improve employee loyalty: I certainly feel valued by my employer and that in turn makes me feel an additional loyalty to the fabulous charity. This loyalty must also improve productivity of moms that return to work.
To reduce turnover and costs (possibly): In turn such feelings of loyalty will keep mothers from looking for other work. Whether this leads to a reduction in costs is debatable. I can’t find any research that accurately compares the costs of enhanced maternity leave schemes and costs of recruitment etc.
Because of a moral obligation: As a children’s charity my employer is setting a good example for other employees by valuing the important bonds parents build with their children in those early days which is the vital first steps towards building the adults of tomorrow. It highlights how much they value the community they are in and the children growing up around the corner from their offices. Giving employees extra financial support (which in turn usually means more time) to nurture the adults of tomorrow is a commendable thing. Especially given the fact that both economic and social returns on the bottom line of their annual accounts is negligible.
In these troubled times I hope we don’t forget how Britain allowed more women the financial freedom to stay home for longer. I hope that more businesses enhance their maternity leave entitlements so more children can get the best start in life with their mother (or father as we can now share the leave) at home for more of those precious early months of life.
Children North East is a charity and, like many others of its kind, has financial challenges so doesn't need to offer the enhancements it does. So massive thumbs up to the Trustees for keeping up the support for their employees who become parents.
I don’t quite know how to thank Children North East for the precious gift of time and financial security that they have given my new family. While I read many mum posts about worries of going back to work and plotting how to sack it off altogether, I am going to focus on how lucky I have been to have this time with my new baby. Thanks Children North East!