HOW IT WORKS
Employees returning from maternity leave at law firm Clifford Chancewere not satisfied. An internal survey showed that, while theyrecognised the firm's generous maternity package, more could be done tosupport employees before, during and after pregnancy. So, along withmaternity coaching consultancy Talking Talent, Clifford Chance devised astrategy to ensure female staff had a more seamless return to work. Theynow have access to maternity coaches from the HR team, who help themachieve a smooth hand over during the last weeks at work. When staff areon maternity leave, coaches are on call during work hours, with an EAPavailable at other times. Coaching is also provided when staff return towork.
Any female employee who becomes pregnant can take advantage of thebenefit. So far, 40 have undergone the group coaching, and nine havepartaken in individual sessions. These staff have benefited from asmoother transition between work and home, and have been able to discusschildcare options and any flexible working arrangements that might suitthem once they return to work. While fathers at the firm do not haveaccess to the coaching, they are offered parenthood seminars. Linemanagers also benefit, as they are trained in how to better manage thosereturning from maternity. It helps the business too, as clients receivea better service from a solicitor who feels supported.
WHAT IT DELIVERS
With as many as 70 employees going on maternity leave annually, thisscheme has helped a significant proportion (2.4%) of the Clifford Chanceworkforce return to work feeling confident and well-supported. And,while clients certainly get a better service because of it, the schemeis not just about benefiting the bottom line. By making women withchildren feel more at ease about rejoining the working world anddeveloping their career, Clifford Chance believes the scheme enableswomen to break through the glass ceiling, helping to create a more equalgender balance at partner-level in the company. There are other, moredirect HR benefits - the scheme is also used as a retention andrecruitment tool.
THE HR DIRECTOR'S VIEW
Alison Middleton, HR policy manager at Clifford Chance, realised therewas a need for change within the organisation. "Previously, people werejust left to get on with motherhood," she says. "Having been through thewhole maternity process myself, I know I would have found it all veryhelpful." Statistics showed that some women returning from maternityleave took a long time to get back up to speed. "We have arehabilitation program for people returning straight from long-termsickness absence, so we thought, why not one for people returning aftermaternity leave? We want them to be able to adapt quickly for the sakeof themselves and of the business," she says. And the coaching seems tohave struck a chord with those receiving it. "It's great, our employeessay it has made them think differently and most found it really useful,"she says. The accompanying intranet site, childcare vouchers andflexible working opportunities add up to an attractive package. "We useit as a retention tool as well as something to help attract women to thefirm."
THE EMPLOYEE'S VIEW
Marie Berard is a senior associate at Clifford Chance. She went onmaternity leave in July 2006, and gave birth to twins in September. "Ihave found the coaching really helpful, and I was impressed that thefirm bothered to do it," she says. Berard found the group meetingsparticularly useful. "Everyone is at the same stage, so we could allchat about things together, such as salaries and time off. Before thiswe were getting conflicting messages from HR, but now everyone isgetting the same information." One-to-one sessions over the telephonehelped too. "I discussed who I should keep in touch with while I'm awayfrom work, and how I should manage my expectations too. The sessionshelp send a message out: I'm coming back to work and my career is stillreally important to me." The maternity package as a whole impressed her,while the coaching particularly helped Berard feel more prepared andconfident about returning to work. "It's a real incentive to stay withthe firm," she says. Berard plans to return to work in the summer, whenshe can take advantage of the back-to-work sessions.