The desire to start families was a factor for Kathy Miller and Sian Sutherland when they set up the award-winning Miller Sutherland seven years ago. Since then, though the consultancy’s team has never gone beyond four people, Sutherland has produced two sons, Charlie and Tom, five and four years-old respectively, while Miller’s Thomas is three and a half.
Other reasons for setting up were a common wish to have control over their work and to produce the best design, working for clients they enjoyed. Also Miller wanted to move to the country, while working on projects which probably benefited from having a London presence. That meant the situation between the two partners had to remain very flexible.
Miller, who previously worked as creative director at Blackburn’s, at the former Michael Peters Group and Lewis Moberly, says she could not have achieved these goals, including children, through existing consultancy structures. ‘We have remained resolutely small, so we could control what we did,’ she says. ‘We wanted high-level working, but felt we needed to be more flexible.’
That said, it hasn’t been easy, she says. ‘Sian and I got no maternity benefits,’ she says. ‘And you still feel guilty if a child is sick and you have to take time off.’
According to Sutherland, who worked in advertising, before setting up her own restaurant, being a partnership, she and Miller are self-employed and entitled to no Government benefits. It would be different if Miller Sutherland was a limited company and they were on PAYE.
‘We run Miller Sutherland in a lean way,’ she says. ‘[With a partnership] you have to run your finances properly so you can afford to have children.’
‘It’s been a battle,’ says Miller. But she maintains it is easier having a woman as a partner. ‘Men aren’t always as sympathetic to it, as their partners are more likely involved in childcare.’
The key thing has been to separate their private and professional lives. Miller cites the occasion when they’ve met clients to celebrate the end of a successful project – and only then has it become apparent that one of the partners has been pregnant all along.