Insights

Maternity Leave 101: What we did, and What we've Learned

Posted 25 February 2019
By Carolina Küng

Ten tiny fingers, and ten tiny toes

*Hold up* before you decide to hop off this page because “yet another piece on the benefits of offering generous family leave policies, I’ve read them all” let me just say that yes, I have spent a lot of time researching and advocating for maternity leave as a way to attract and retain talent, but no; this post is not about promoting the benefits of renewing family policies.

As the first woman to go on maternity leave at Frontline, I was given the opportunity by my partners to research, design and implement our official company policy. Many of my peers find themselves in situations where they are considering renewing/updating/creating policies at their firms — and many have expressed interest in understanding how my team and I went about the process (as well as some of the surprising data we uncovered along the way) That is what this post is about.

When I first joined Frontline over 12 months ago, I did not bother to ask about maternity leave. My husband and I had no plans to start a family at that time, so why should I worry about anything other than comp and carry? I could tackle maternity when we came around to it.

Turns out, this was incredibly shortsighted and as soon as we found out we were expecting, 15 minutes on gov.uk were enough to freak out the mother and career woman in me. Without diving into it, to say that current government statutory minimum guidelines for maternity leave are inadequate is an understatement (happy to dive more into this in person if you are interested).

Over the course of four weeks, I met with and interviewed multiple UK and US-based financial services firms on their current maternity leave offerings. From smaller venture capital funds (with $100mil AUM or under) to large international conglomerates of $60bn+. All data was anonymized at the request of providers. You can see a sample below.

As per the below, the important points to consider when designing/planning for maternity leave policy are:

  • Time at full pay (weeks paid / rate)
  • Time at Statutory Minimum
  • Time unpaid
  • Holidays (Accrued vs Not)
  • Bonus Eligibility
  • Pension Eligibility
  • Carry Eligibility
  • Maternity/Paternity share

Notes:

  1. UK Govt Minimum Standard pay is applied to all UK companies. I have tallied figures only for what companies offer on top of the UK Govt Standard. This is not the case in the US.
  2. “Bonus” here refers to the common practice of allocating a discretionary performance-based bonus to be awarded at the end of the year
  3. For the purposes of my limited study, I did not focus on Maternity/Paternity Share as I knew that this was not a possibility for my husband under his current expat contract. That said, this is an area that should definitely be explored as you go about your research and one that we will re-examine at Frontline as well.

A few trends worth noting

  1. Venture/Growth Funds with AUM in the billions. These often compete for talent with IBs, so not surprising that they offer the most competitive packages
  2. IBs (Investment Banks) with AUM in the billions. These often compete for Talent with Venture/Growth Funds, so not surprising that they offer the most competitive packages
  3. Mid-Tier Venture/Growth Funds ($100Mil+) in the UK. The majority offer competitive packages and are very vocal on diversity initiatives

A side note:

Lack of policy does not necessarily mean lack of appetite; except when it does… It is important to look beyond the surface here; yes — surprising that a company that clearly has the means, does not have a supportive maternity leave policy, but it is important to note that in many cases, this is simply because the team lacks a champion for this cause; even larger PE/VC funds that I am personally aware of went several years without having a policy, and then rapidly embraced one when team members stepped up to take on the roll.

One may rightfully wonder why it is that this is something that has to be “championed” or asked for; surely firms should think about maternity as a priority policy off the bat — I mean, 50% of the workforce is female. This would be a good question to ask, was it not for the fact that virtually all funds and financial services firms are still predominantly run by men. Again, this is a topic for another rainy day.

That said, what truly surprised me was that more than one VC I spoke to has been trying to get buy-in from partners for an updated maternity policy for 1 year +, unsuccessfully. Let me reiterate that; more than one VC has senior leadership that looks at this issue and thinks; “Nah, not a top priority for us at the moment

  1. Mid-Tier Venture/Growth Funds ($100Mil+) in the US. The majority are very vocal on diversity initiatives, but many do not offer maternity Leave packages
  2. Mid-Tier Venture/Growth Funds ($100Mil+) in the UK that do not offer maternity leave packages. This was a small set, but a surprising result as most of these are still considerably vocal on diversity initiatives

Frontline's Maternity Leave Policy

Faced with the data and conclusions above, I approached my partners with the outline and options listed below.

The Best Offerings:

  • Large IB in the UK: 26 weeks full pay, 13 weeks Statutory minimum, 13 weeks unpaid
  • Large VC in the UK: 26 weeks full pay, 13 weeks Statutory minimum, 13 weeks unpaid

Mid Range Offerings:

  • Mid Level VC in the UK: Full pay 17 weeks, any extra time unpaid
  • Large VC in the UK: Full pay 17 weeks, 13 weeks Statutory minimum, 13 weeks

Low Range Offerings

  • Govt Statutory Maternity Package. Two of the Mid Level VCs in London do not have a policy (so eligible for Govt SMP). There is hope on reaching a package soon.

Option A for Frontline: Full pay 17 weeks (4 months), 9 weeks (2 months) Govt SMP pay
Option B for Frontline: Full pay 17 weeks, any extra time unpaid

In both options, my proposal outlined that I retain accrued holidays, bonus eligibility at the end of the year as stipulated in my original contract, and carried interest as stipulated in my original contract.

In the end (#Spoileralert): we decided for Option A
We also decided to put my accrued holidays to good use; upon returning to work, I will work Mon-Thu for the first 12 weeks. This includes other flexible working options that are available to the Frontline team, such as the occasional work from home day.

A few things to think about ahead of time

1. Do not repeat my mistake. Ask about maternity leave policies up front — if you are thinking about having a family, this will be as pivotal to you as salary and/or carry because the reality is that most couples will not have the privilege of shared time off from their workplace. I was fortunate to join a team that is genuinely committed to promoting diversity and open to my requests and research, but this is not always the case. In short, you do not want to find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between your career and your family — so ask.

2. Buy-in matters. Do not join a team that is not genuinely interested in this subject. And be careful of smoke and mirrors. Diversity is the hot topic of the moment, but is this company actually reforming internal policies? Or just engaged in a marketing campaign? Learn to objectively assess a team and do so at the interview stage (for more details on how to do this, please reach out to me!)

You want to work for a team that actively leans in — beyond just conceding to a fair maternity leave policy, you want to make sure that you work for a company that will not penalize you (directly or indirectly), for taking time off. At my year-end review, my partners decided to compensate me beyond my contractual package, despite that fact that I will be out of commission for 6 months. Make no mistake; this has me fired up to go back to work.

Many women I have spoken to are afraid of asking questions related to maternity leave in fear of being passed over as a candidate. Ok, but would you really want to work for an organization that punishes you for wanting a family? If you do get passed for asking questions, good riddance (IMHO).

3. Just because it isn’t there yet, doesn’t mean it won’t be. A mentor once told me; “if you don’t ask, you won’t get” this has served me well over the years. Seize the opportunity to shape policy for your team.

4. Consider your corporate setup, your needs as a team member and a future parent. Because we are a small team of seven at Frontline, a year-long leave would mean pausing many high priority Platform projects that have a direct impact on the success of our fund. This might not be the case if you work at a larger fund with more ability to parcel or redistribute your workload, and I am by no means advocating that this particular timeframe is the best policy, but 17 weeks felt right for our corporate structure, industry and my personal context.

5. Present your team with options; there is no one-framework-fits-all here. And your partners/colleagues will deeply appreciate you doing the work up front. Refer back to my proposal for examples.

Conclusion

As you will have gathered by now, my research merely scratches the surface, with a limited sample both in the number of reports and the detail of data. However, it is enough to point to a solid trend; family policies cannot be ignored in the VC/PE/IB/Finance space. You have the leverage here, and maternity is a good place to start.

It is also crucial to note that a solid maternity and paternity policy is just the beginning; a well-respected London VC that I admire, Leila Zegna (Founder of Kindred VC), once commented on the importance of moving beyond concepts of maternity leave — and towards family leave in general. Having a child is a long term commitment, so what about toddler leave, teenage leave, adult leave? And for those who do not have children, what about personal leave? Grievance leave etc? If we are truly committed to parity, we will work to improve standards for mothers, fathers, families, and individuals in general.

There are 3 billion employed people on the planet, yet only 40% of them are happy at work (TED). Long gone are the days that companies could afford to ignore key benefits because of their size/stage/market.

Ps: since I started writing this blog, we have had some great news in the Frontline team as another little one is expected. Any suggestions/frameworks for Parental leave would be very welcome. And If you are interested in discussing further, please let me know!

P.P.S — there are some useful resources for companies on Diversity & Inclusion from Diversity VC and Atomico. Check them out at www.inclusionintech.com.

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