7 Mar 2013 02:23pm

How maternity packages shape up in accountancy

What maternity leave packages do the big accountancy firms offer, and do they contribute to the low number of female partners? Helen Roxburgh investigates

“It’s very important that we are market competitive,” says Irena Molloy, director of human resources at BDO, when asked about the firm’s maternity package. The mid-tier accountancy firm carried out an analysis of different maternity provisions being offered by its rivals about 18 months ago, and made a few tweaks to its own accordingly. With pressure on all the big firms to improve the level of women at senior level, all are keen to avoid any disincentives to female employees.

As Molloy put it, “It’s important to us that our staff feel engaged and motivated and women want to come back.”

We tend to design our strategy around what our staff tell us they want
Irene Molloy, BDO

None of the firms have what could be called a “poor” maternity offer. All go above the statutory minimum – some quite substantially so – and most provide various networks or mentoring schemes.

KPMG, for example, offers an emergency childcare service and a generous 18 weeks on full pay. Deloitte’s 16 weeks at full pay (followed by 10 weeks at half pay) far outstrips the minimum firms are required to offer, which is 90% of a woman’s salary for six weeks, followed by £135.45 per week. Deloitte says it decided to drop the return to work bonus in order to enhance its standard maternity offer for all staff.

KPMG told economia that the challenge it faces in this area is building its “pipeline of talented women from graduates up through to the highest levels of management and leadership,” a theme that emerged across several of the firms. Making your staff happy and committed before they start having families is one of the surest ways of making sure they come back.

Liz Bingham, managing partner at Ernst & Young, said a good maternity offer was “a huge focus for us” but formed part of the firm’s efforts to be as inclusive to all staff.

“I know you’ll say I would say this,” she told us, "but I genuinely think we are ahead of the game. We tend to design our strategy around what our staff tell us they want, and try to be as inclusive to all our staff. We’ve set ourselves new targets so minority groups stop feeling like minority groups.”

Many firms report difficulty for women returning to work after such a long period out. Once back in the office, networking and discussing issues is key. BDO says it has “placed renewed focus on encouraging females to have a senior female mentor to provide them with guidance or support as they look to progress through the firm.” Equally, Grant Thornton doesn’t have any organised networks, but has instead invested a lot in manager training and getting managers to talk to their staff about what is right for them.

Part of that involves being flexible around working hours. “Our flexible working offering is a valuable support for working mothers and it helps to maintain balance between their work and family life,” said KPMG, emphasising that it makes sense from a commercial prospective as well as for families to make this a viable option.

Being responsive to staff needs in general is a key theme. Sacha Romanovitch, the partner responsible for people and culture at Grant Thornton, says the firm has tried to take a very responsive approach to its maternity offer. 

This is a human being thing, not just a woman thing

Sacha Romanovitch, Grant Thornton

“When you have children its such a massive change in your life, and you need to think how you can make it work for you,” she said. “I think that it’s really helpful to remember this is a human being thing, not just a woman thing.”

She raises the cost of childcare and the time out of work as being two of the big hurdles for women to cross. More understanding around sharing parental leave between both parents, and a corporate culture that respects the work/life balance, will be essential in the future for women getting into more senior roles.

“When I came back from having children it was so hard to get my head back into that space,” she said. “When people have had a year off, I’ve noticed that all the conversations are about confidence. I wonder whether the structure of maternity leave is such that it makes it harder to return.”

But most do return; maternity retention rates are high across the industry. At KPMG, they say around 300 women a year take a period of maternity leave, and 90% come back. Across the firm it estimates that 34% have parental responsibilities. Ernst & Young says it also has a return-to work rate of over 90%, Deloitte puts it at 90.2%, and PwC rates it at 90.5%. At Grant Thornton, the rate was 80% for 2012.

Mark Sherfield, chief operating officer at BDO, says the process of understanding the needs of parents in work is an ongoing one.

“We conduct our own internal research, and we tend to find two main things. Firstly that it’s important not to lose communication during the maternity leave – that’s really important in terms of how you think about your place in the company.

“So we make sure people are invited to team days out for example, and generally work to keep them updated and included in the company.

“We also need to think about the culture of getting back to work, and helping that person get back into a work routine. That’s where we are starting to put an increasing amount of resource.

“It’s more about understanding the difference between what they needed before and how their life has changed.”

Sherfield also stressed that for BDO the process begins well before staff might be thinking about planning a family. He said BDO works hard to promote an “inclusive” culture. “We need to understand all of our staff,” he concluded.

But the levels of offers vary. We asked the big firms’ HR departments to tell us what they offered as maternity leave packages, and how that relates to the number of female partners in the firm.


KPMG Canary Wharf

Basic maternity offer
KPMG offers 18 weeks on full pay to all employees.

Return to work bonuses?

Networking groups
Ten employee networks, including one for parents and carers, plus a women’s network. A ‘Back in Business’ workshop is provided for female employees retuning from maternity leave, and maternity coaching is in place to provide one-on-one confidential sessions internally.

Other benefits?
Access to Emergency Childcare – employees entitled to 20 days fully subsidised emergency childcare per child at the firm’s expense. Employees given “reasonable” time off for ante-natal care, are assessed on site and entitled to up to 10 “Keep in Touch” days.
Flexible working opportunities.

Number of female partners
87 (14%).



Basic maternity offer
Full base pay for eight weeks, followed by 18 weeks at 25% of base pay.

Return to work bonuses?
On returning to work women are awarded childcare vouchers valued at 12% of their base pay.

Networking groups
A ‘Mentoring for Mums’ programme, a pilot maternity coaching programme, a parents network and a women’s network are all in place.

Other benefits?
A free 24/7 hotline for all staff and their families to raise confidential issues and seek help. Childcare voucher providers.

Number of female partners
135 (15%).


Ernst & Young

Basic maternity offer
Full salary for 14 weeks, 50% salary between weeks 15 and 26, followed by SMP until week 39.

Return to work bonuses?

Networking groups
A parents network, plus an Ernst & Young Women’s Network.

Other benefits
Maternity coaching in place, with formal training available on request.

Number of female partners
18% (28% of the UK leadership team).



Basic maternity offer
Full salary for 16 weeks, 10 weeks at half pay.

Return to work bonuses?
No – this was replaced with an enhanced standard agreement in January 2012.

Networking groups
Nine diversity networks within the organisation, including a Working Parents and Carers network.

Other benefits
A programme of “transitions coaching” is in place, supporting women through practical points of pregnancy and child care in a working environment
Emergency child care provisions.

Number of female partners
140 (15%)



Basic maternity offer

Employees with more than a year’s service receive 50% of their salary in addition to the relevant rate of SMP for weeks 7-16.
Those employed by the firm for more than three years receive their base salary for the first six weeks, 50% of their salary in addition to the relevant rate of SMP for weeks 7-16 and 25% of their salary in addition to the relevant rate of SMP for weeks 17-26.

Return to work bonuses?
Yes; women receive 50% of a month’s salary paid in their third month back at work; women employed for more than three years get a month’s salary, and those employed for longer than five years get a month’s salary paid in both the third and sixth months after returning to work.

Networking groups?
The firm launched a new BDO Women’s Network in December. A mentoring programme is also in place for anyone in the firm, with focus on encouraging senior female staff to take on juniors.

Other bonuses
Guidance programme provided by charity Tommy’s to employees and managers

Number of female partners
20 (10%)


Grant Thornton

Basic maternity offer
Six weeks at 90% pay, some additional maternity pay in weeks 7 – 19 depending on length of service.

Return to work bonuses?
Two months’ salary on return.

Networking groups

Other benefits
Discounts on baby/childcare good and use of the government childcare voucher scheme.

Number of female partners
29 (14%).


Helen Roxburgh


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