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The London School of Economics & Political Science, Commended 2014, The DTCC Best for Innovation Award

The London School of Economics (LSE) is a leading teaching and research university. To sustain its reputation as a world-leading academic institution it needs to be able to recruit and retain the best people, through being a flexible, fair and diverse employer and ensuring that employees can progress their careers at LSE without having to sacrifice their work–life balance. To this end, it has developed innovative solutions that address some specific issues.

There is a clearly defined business case for supporting employees. As a research university, the amount and quality of research output is critical in order to be competitive in the global higher education sector. Helping academic employees to perform well in this respect is mutually beneficial. Part of this involves creating a work environment that promotes more female academics, because at the moment there is an under-representation of women at professoriate level. But it also means a commitment from LSE to support men and women to be parents and develop their careers, and to provide the means for fathers to share the role of parenthood in society.

LSE has introduced a term’s research leave on full pay for academic employees who take six months’ maternity, adoption or additional paternity leave (APL). This scheme offers the opportunity for academic employees to share leave with their partners and not put their career on the back burner. It has already proved an incentive (together with contractual pay) for fathers to take up APL. Within months of the introduction of the scheme, there are two examples of employed academic couples at the LSE who have chosen to take up the career and financial benefits of the scheme; the female employees opting to take 26 weeks’ maternity leave on contractual maternity pay and the male employee to take 26 weeks’ APL on contractual paternity pay. The scheme also provides the means to guard against indirect discrimination against women, because the number of research papers an academic publishes affects his or her promotion prospects.

Although an innovative and relatively new scheme, LSE has put into place a system to both measure the success of the initiative and ensure that it will survive beyond the departure of the key staff who created and implemented it. Success will be measured by: an increase in the number of men choosing to take APL for up to 26 weeks; LSE’s successful registration for a bronze institutional award as part of the Equality Challenge Unit’s Gender Equality Mark for staff in higher education; checking that there is a clear understanding of the purpose of research leave to avoid any misconceptions that research and writing can be conducted while on parenting leave (part of the Single Equality Scheme Action Plan); annually monitoring the take-up of female academics of research leave (an additional term’s leave given for absences on maternity leave or APL of 26 weeks or more) as part of the implementation of the New Academic Career structure and measuring the impact of the leave on their career progression; and a review of the current practice for staff returning to work following a career or maternity/paternity break.

As the scheme was introduced as part of negotiations with the trade unions and is part of the terms of employment, it will survive the departure of the members of management who introduced it.