Aiming high: Accenture's market leading SPL policy

By 2020 Accenture aims to be one of the most inclusive and diverse organisations in the world.  Accenture UK is contributing to this through their market-leading Shared Parental Leave (SPL) policy, which provides mothers, primary adopters, fathers and partners equal access to up to 32 weeks fully paid leave. Since the policy was launched in April 2015, over 100 employees have benefited from SPL, significantly above the national average.

Payal Vasudeva – Accenture Human Capital and Diversity Executive Sponsor. Image of Payal Vasudeva

At Accenture, we pride ourselves on diversity and gender equality.  We aim to create a truly inclusive and diverse environment where all our people succeed and achieve their personal as well as professional aspirations. Whether they are mothers or fathers, at leadership level or the start of their careers, or in same-sex relationships, Accenture’s philosophy and core values apply to all.

When designing the SPL policy, we wanted to use it as a tool to encourage a cultural shift and ultimately support further gender equality. In order for this tool to be effective, we needed to ensure the benefit was compelling and be one of the most generous, equal and progressive offerings in the UK. We wanted to maximise engagement during this change so throughout the process, the UK Forum (employee-nominated counsel), and our employee resource groups namely, Accent on Gender, Accent on Family, as well as our UKI Executive Team (the Board), all provided input.  We also extended focus groups to 400 employees, including parents with grown children, parents with young children and non-parents. 

Our ultimate goal was to break-down any barriers that may be real or perceived around taking SPL and take methodical steps to create our desired culture change. Firstly, we showcased our most senior leaders as ambassadors to SPL. We used a UK wide communication from our country Managing Director and our Human Capital and Diversity sponsor alongside a video explaining SPL to launch the policy and set the tone that our employees should embrace and encourage SPL uptake.

Secondly, we knew we needed to increase awareness and knowledge and now have a dedicated SPL programme in place to help employees make an informed decision on whether SPL is the right thing for them and their family. Accenture’s trained team of SPL HR experts are on hand to discuss policy and take employees through a variety of scenarios such as how SPL can be taken and the options available to couples. Our SPL microsite provides essential information for those considering SPL, and SPL workshops delivered by trained experts are also readily available and cover childcare, finances and returning to work. These workshops are attended by maternity leavers also to ensure everyone can benefit from shared experiences as well as further showcasing that parenting and parental leave is an opportunity for both parents.

We know that role models are vital to any change particularly in the Inclusion and Diversity arena. We encourage the 100+ employees who have taken SPL to share their experience internally and externally and offer advice and guidance to colleagues and leadership on the challenges and benefits.

These SPL role models really help our employees understand the benefits of SPL and address concerns they may have about how it may impact their career progression or indeed their reputation while on a client-facing project.

One of Accenture’s first employees to take SPL, Managing Director Mark Smith says, “it has been a year since I’ve been back from SPL now, the evidence is very clear that it has not affected my career in any way. I’ve slotted straight back into a role that I wanted to do, and people have really applauded the fact that I’ve taken time out to do it… for me, it’s about giving a couple a choice in how they want to deal with childcare.  It really has a positive impact on gender equality and overcoming some of the traditional views.” Mark has also shared his story in the media and at our 2016 International Women’s Day where many Accenture senior leaders and FTSE100 clients attended allowing Accenture to further make an impact on society at large. Simple storytelling can really change hearts and minds.

We have also profiled another of our employees Laura Higgins who was promoted to senior manager while on SPL and says “If you’re at the time in your career where it’s the right time for you then nothing will prevent you from progressing.”

Once back at work, we continue to support our people in their work and family life.  Laura is raising a family in a same-sex relationship and explained her position, “for me during the first six weeks, being there to support my partner after her labour was imperative". Laura’s position also confirms that for some employees, SPL offers couples equal access to parenting, encouraging them to support each other from the outset as partners and parents, an all too rare opportunity.

Management Consultant Hamish Reid who took the full 32 weeks SPL last year, sums up his decision-making process, “I spoke to a lot of people about whether it was the right idea to take it or not. I had useful and open discussions and a lot of support from different people.  Since returning, people in my community have been really helpful, and I’ve been involved in some short-term interesting internal work which has helped me get back into the rhythm of where we are today.” Hamish was promoted two months after his return and is now involved in our Accent on Family employee resource group to help push further change.

From a client perspective support is certainly there, Samuel Jackson mentions “when I shared my decision to take SPL, a lot of my clients were also very excited and enthused about the idea, they wished they had the opportunity to take SPL”.  One reason is of course that unlike compassionate or sick leave, where there is limited, if any notice given, the process of SPL allows quality hand-over time, ensuring clients and teams have an adequate period of adjustment.

When the time comes to return to work, SPL returners can do so knowing Accenture will support them personally and professionally, reinforcing our commitment to be an inclusive and diverse organisation and to continuously improve our SPL offering we seek feedback from all those involved in the process and hope to see our numbers grow.

While implementing SPL has involved legislation, company policy change and data analysis, personally, I feel this is about culture and societal change through changing perspectives, and truly believing we can share equally in both career and family commitments. At Accenture we want every employee to bring their whole selves to work, and we have a responsibility to ensure we support them in being able to do this.

This specific milestone is significant, not just because it demonstrates that cultural shift is beginning to happen but also that our rapid increase in applications is distributed across all levels and areas of the business, which moves us towards an even more inclusive and human-centric organisation.

The benefit of this is not just gender equality around parenting roles, but also helping us attract and retain an engaged and motivated workforce. As Human Capital and Diversity Sponsor, I have an obligation to find innovative ways to benefit all employees, regardless of their demographic, and SPL is one of the many initiatives that helps us achieve our goals.