Jonathan Clarke (pictured on the right) is the HR Director at the patent and trademarking law firm, Kilburn & Strode. We heard about K&S’s enlightened approach to fathers, flexibility and shared parental leave and asked Jonathan to tell us some more.
In a nutshell, could you tell us who Kilburn & Strode’s clients are and what the practice does for them?
We work with clients from just about every industry sector. This means that day-to-day our attorneys are dealing with a hugely diverse and constantly evolving range of intellectual property issues. In the most basic terms, we’re here to protect our clients’ interests and make their lives easier. Offering a complete intellectual property service is key to our ability to deliver on that promise.
As the HRD at Kilburn & Strode what are you working on at the moment? And what do you want to say you’ve created/delivered/changed/improved 12 months from now?
We entered the Times Top 100 employer survey last October. We have had a people survey for the last 3 years and we wanted a more in-depth survey and a better understanding of how we are actually doing. We were accredited as “One to Watch” – that really means we have quite a way to go to be a top 100 employer – but we are determined. That’s my focus for the next 12 months.
You have a trusting, open culture and you embrace flexible working. Could you give us a flavour of what “flexible working” looks like at Kilburn & Strode and how it’s relevant to the practice’s success?
We have just short of 100 people who charge their time to our clients – they all have a laptop and Skype soft phone – that means they are equipped from an IT perspective to work anywhere they choose to. We encourage that. Success for us is about client satisfaction – that is not measured by people being in an office. Our gender split is approximately 50/50 and that reflects itself in thosde who choose to work at home. The majority of our Partners have at least a day a week working at home – that sets the tone.
You have beautiful, carefully designed offices yet you’re keen to get more people working from home. Why is that and how are you going to encourage that shift?
It’s a beautiful space – thank you. We want our people to be able to choose where they work and when you let them choose you soon realise that for the majority, they like coming to the office – I think that is about the space but its also because we like working together – face to face time is so important. As we continue to invest in IT and move away from any paper altogether, I believe more people will be as efficient at home as they are in the office.
What do you think are the main risks for law firms and professional services companies who don’t have a widespread culture of flexible working?
It’s a shame isn’t it – I think the risks are that you lose good people, that we don’t look innovative to our clients and that the clear message is that sitting within sight is more important that quality of work and client care.
Any final thoughts on flexible working?
What I’ve noticed is that many of our 20-30 year olds prefer coming into the office – perhaps that is because in London they live in shared accommodation and their homes aren’t really set up with a place to work.
What messages are you giving to fathers, and when, about Shared Parental Leave? How many have taken SPL and how do you see that changing (or not) over the next 5 years?
We made a big deal of SPL at the time of its launch and not since then. This needs one senior dad to get it going – everyone needs a role model and new dads will follow. Two of our mums shared their leave with their husbands – and we were of course delighted to have them back sooner than expected. Once it takes off, it will be normal – we in K&S want to be leading on flexibility and your question reminds me to do more.
We know that take-up of SPL has been very low since it was introduced in April 2015. There are many reasons for this, including it being counter-cultural for men to stay at home with an infant whilst the mother works. If a firm was really serious about getting more men to take SPL, what do you think it would be doing?
Constantly talking about it, sharing the policy with fathers, suggesting that fathers talk to their employer when they are expecting (men rarely tell anyone at work for quite a few months) and the most important – persuading a senior male role model to do it.
If we lived in a society where men and women took equal amounts of leave upon becoming parents what changes do you think we would see in workplaces? In wider society?
We might not have a gender pay gap, we might not have all male boardrooms.
What would be your advice to an expectant father who would like to take SPL and who works in a long-hours culture where taking SPL is not common practice?
If he worked in Kilburn & Strode, he’d be our first role model. But that’s not your question – its 6 months, spending time with your children is a precious thing, work can wait.