Get The Answers: Good sense in working with staff starting families

By Gill South, Sue Ironside

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Sue Ironside is chair of Baldwins Intellectual Property. Photo / Supplied
Sue Ironside is chair of Baldwins Intellectual Property. Photo / Supplied

Are companies making enough efforts to keep their skilled women staff as they start their families? The numbers of women starting their own businesses because they do not think their corporate employers will give them flexibility as they raise their families, would argue not. Professional firms are some of the hardest places for working mothers to maintain careers with increasingly demanding hours as they reach senior levels.

What steps have you taken to maintain skilled women as they start families?

Baldwins is a firm of patent attorneys, intellectual property lawyers and commercialisation experts, with a heritage that goes back more than 100 years and we have a high proportion of female partners. Of the 150 staff, 115 are women. Baldwins' first female partner was appointed in the mid 1970s.

This is World Breastfeeding Week. What is Baldwins' stance on breastfeeding facilities and support in the workplace?

Baldwins has been a long-time supporter of breastfeeding in the workplace - having dedicated rooms in its offices long before it was mandated. There apparently is a report of a partner's wife breastfeeding her child in the office as far back as 25 years ago.

What other things do you do to support mothers returning to work?

We have a number of initiatives to support new parents (both men and women).The firm has developed a number of family-friendly employment policies including part-time work options, job sharing and gradual return to work. There are 31 part-timers in the firm at present, and another 10 on flexible work arrangements. At the moment there is a senior associate in my team who is transitioning to fulltime work after having her second child. She came back from maternity leave, initially for three days each week, and has now increased to a four-day week.

Our policies are not restricted to women. We offer parental leave and flexible work hours for men. For example, we have one member of staff who started later on Thursdays when his kids were under 5 and his wife was working part-time.

Why is it important for employers to provide these sorts of facilities and support?

At the simplest level it makes good business sense. It takes a long time to train as a patent attorney or lawyer, so making it easy for female employees and partners to return to work after having a baby is not only good for the firm, it's also good for the employee. It seems a waste to run the risk of letting a huge amount of talent leave the firm for the sake of being flexible.

It also shows our team that we value and appreciate them enough to find a solution that works for everyone. It can't be all about us and nothing for the employee.

What benefits have you seen as an organisation from putting these practices into place?

It's been good for us. We benefit from a happy, more engaged workforce. We also retain more of our highly qualified staff members post-baby. There's no point being rigid if it means losing a valuable staff member who has a great relationship with the firm and its clients.

The fact that we have such a high proportion of women in the firm reflects our approach to attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce.

Our policies have been very well received. The senior associate in my team said it was a great way to transition back into the workforce. She thought it was a positive thing that her employer was open to discussion and willing to be flexible.

- NZ Herald


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