The family business

The DBA’s plans to examine provisions for maternity leave show a wide range of allowances. Tom Bawden finds these are particularly dependent on the size of the organisation.

The Design Business Association’s stated intention to foster better maternity benefits and working arrangements in the sector is another sign that the design industry is fast maturing.

In recent years, many consultancies have repositioned themselves internally as business enterprises and not just creative boutiques, building in new layers of management and looking at long-term growth prospects. The addition of strategy to their traditional creative offerings is a further, external, manifestation of this change in attitude.

But the industry still has a long way to go before it matches the business sophistication found in many other UK sectors.

On Tuesday market research group Eureka! presented the preliminary findings of a survey to commissioning body the DBA. This covered a range of human resources issues in the sector and will be used by the DBA as a springboard to develop strategies to help consultancies improve this area of their business.

Of all the issues researched, the provision of maternity benefits and working conditions is perhaps the hottest subject.

“There are more women in design now, especially in the senior roles, and I’m definitely recruiting more people to fill roles vacated by people on maternity leave,” says recruitment consultant Periscope managing director Kim Crawford, who is herself pregnant with twins.

The initial market research has thrown up a disparity between consultancies’ approach to the maternity issue.

“[The research] shows consultancies were not homogeneous in their approach. In general terms, the small- to medium-sized groups treated it very differently from the bigger groups,” says DBA director and Wagstaffs managing director Clare Anderson, also pregnant. The research includes interviews with 15 employers and employees from consultancies of all sizes.

“Bigger groups tend to have more systems in place, while smaller ones, for which a pregnancy is more disruptive, often have to learn as they go along – and, in some cases, see formal policies as running counter to a cosy, family-type environment,” adds Anderson.

“While some groups make good provision, the survey shows a need for some kind of service [to aid consultancies with their maternity policies],” says Anderson. The exact nature of this service has yet to be determined, although the DBA hopes to come up with some initial concepts within the next month.

Anderson says any service which is created will have to reflect the current industry maternity landscape, addressing a spectrum of attitudes towards, and policies on, the issue.

She says that some consultancies offer the bare minimum benefits as outlined in statutory law, while others, generally the bigger groups, offer considerably more.

As well as satisfying the statutory requirements, Fitch’s UK office gives employees additional payments and agrees flexible working arrangements on a case-by-case basis, after the baby’s birth. It also offers men five days’ paternity leave.

Meanwhile, Landor Associates’ UK office pays employees their full rate of pay for the first six weeks, double the rate set by the Government for the remaining weeks and throws in a further two weeks’ wages.

After the birth, Landor works out a flexible working arrangement with the mother and has retained a number of its female staff as a result. There are currently two staff on maternity leave at the group and two others pregnant, and there were four further pregnancies at the start of last year.

Of Fitch’s 140-strong workforce, approximately 45 per cent are women, while the figure at Landor is 43 per cent.

For both groups, the policy in the UK differs from that in the international branches, since each country has its own legislation. In general terms, the UK is regarded as lagging behind much of western Europe, but is ahead of the US.

“The design industry lags significantly behind most other industries and I have been shocked at how little provision is in place. It is well behind industry and education,” says one well-placed source.

But Periscope’s Crawford says she has noticed a significant improvement in maternity provision in the industry.

“There is a greater degree of flexibility [regarding maternity arrangements] in the design industry in recent years. I can think of several people who have engineered their own working arrangements and one has only been working there for about one year. But she’s very good and her employer wants to keep her,” says Crawford.

Fitch communications director Zuilmah Wallis says as the design industry continues to grow, good people are increasingly hard to come by. Consultancies are therefore becoming keener to keep good, senior staff – an increasing proportion of whom are women. And changing demographics have led to a need for changing working practices.

“It is well known that female employees stay with a business longer than men. For that reason alone, it is worth offering women good maternity packages – as an investment. The cost of training and recruiting is great and too much movement can be unsettling. People are our key asset and it makes sense to keep them on board,” says Wallis.

Wallis has a young child and works two days a week in London and two days in Ireland so as to spend more time with her family.

She says more emphasis should be placed on working fathers and that her consultancy aims to give them more flexible conditions where their children are involved.

While paternity provisions naturally lag behind maternity rights, the issue at this stage appears to be almost completely overlooked. Anderson will reveal little of the DBA’s potential plans on this issue. It will be interesting, when it announces its skeleton plan, if that subject figures along with the maternity issue. This would be a good opportunity for the industry to show it really means business.

Basic maternity entitlements:

In the UK:

Fourteen weeks paid leave, at 90 per cent pay for the first six weeks and 57.70 a week for the remainder. After two years of employment a further 29 weeks unpaid leave is available

In the US:

Twelve weeks unpaid leave

Basic maternity conditions:

In the UK:

Continuous employment with company for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is expected, with notice of leave given 21 days in advance

In the US:

Continuous employment with company for at least 12 months, working at least 1250 hours in the year up to the birth

UK source: The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act, Order 1994

US source: The Family Medical Leave Act

Fitch UK maternity policy

(in addition to UK statutory requirements outlined above):

In weeks six to 14 of maternity leave employees entitled to 50 per cent of weekly salary

Can negotiate a flexible working practice before and after birth

Male employees entitled to one week paid leave after the birth

Fitch US maternity policy

(in addition to statutory US requirements outlined above):

Six weeks paid disability leave during pregnancy or after childbirth

Male employees entitled to one week paid leave after the birth

NB Fitch’s US policy is consistent across its four US offices

(Under the US Congress Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978) employers are required to treat pregnant women in the same manner as it would treat other, what it terms, temporarily disabled, workers)

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