A human centered approach to our work and workplace policy

People Operations Director

Every day, Smart Design faces complex problems head-on and uses a human-centered approach to find meaningful solutions to them. Leading HR at Smart, I mirror our team’s approach to client work and it will be no surprise that parental leave is one of these problems. The US is the only industrialized nation not offering government-sponsored paid maternity leave.

Paid parental leave or lack thereof, is one of the biggest challenges facing companies and new parents today. I’ve been on both sides of the table for this debate. Working in HR, I understand FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) better than most. As a new mother myself, I’m also acutely aware that FMLA isn’t enough.

FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave up to 12 weeks for specified family and medical reasons, including the birth or placement of a child (in the case of adoption or foster care). But it applies only to full-time workers at companies with 50 or more employees within 75 miles, who’ve worked for the company for 12 months. Freelancers, part-time employees, entrepreneurs, and employees of small businesses have zero mandated time off or job protection. That leaves organizations of all sizes to fill that gap.

For more than ten years, Smart has been reframing conversations about design and gender through our Femme Den lab. We’ve drawn on our beliefs and learnings from this area of expertise that considering the needs of women can serve as a meaningful filter for good experiences for everyone. Designing a workplace that reflects the expectations of a working woman enables us to shape an environment where all people will want to work. Accordingly, we’ve always offered a lot of flexibility for new parents.

Each experience at Smart is their own – we’re committed to working with parents, to figure out what makes sense for each family’s situation. I was lucky to return on a phased- back schedule. After 8 weeks, I worked 2 days a week. After 12 weeks, I was working 4 days a week. For a short while, I worked full-time, but one day from home until I returned to my regular schedule.

As a consultancy that is both deeply human centered and iterative by nature, we understand the need to continually evolve. We’ve recently updated our US policy to reflect a new path forward; one that is financially generous in addition to the flexibility always provided.

Our new policy for the New York studio guarantees up to 12 weeks paid leave for primary care-givers and up to two weeks paid leave for secondary care-givers, both with continued health coverage. Although a challenging decision, we considered a number of factors. First and foremost, we felt it was the right thing to do for our employees. We know how hard our employees work, and we want to be sure we are providing support during key life moments.

Economically we needed to consider cost. However, this proved to be an easier decision than we imagined. As people have children later in life, employees become key members of our team and are difficult to replace; finding coverage and offering paid leave is still more economically sound than the cost of hiring, replacing, and retraining someone new.

Lastly, it contributes to Smart Design’s success. When employees feel taken care of, they are more engaged and produce even stronger quality work. We are committed to meeting the evolving needs of our employees in a meaningful way. Our new policy allows us to offer the right work / life balance – for all of us.

For this reason, we are also excited to be a launch partner in the Pledge Parental Leave initiative. We wholeheartedly support PPL’s aims in hoping to motivate other agencies and businesses across our industry to join and expand the coalition.

Read on to see some of our earlier thoughts on designing for working moms.