Buddle Findlay D&I committee chair on enhancing support for parents on leave

Charlotte von Dadelszen discusses the firm’s new parental leave policy, which includes a novel entitlement

Buddle Findlay D&I committee chair on enhancing support for parents on leave
Charlotte von Dadelszen

Buddle Findlay kicked off the new year by bolstering its support for parents at the firm, and diversity and inclusion committee chair Charlotte von Dadelszen is proud to have played an instrumental role in establishing the firm’s new parental leave policy.

The policy, which according to the firm was developed following a process of “research, consultation and collaboration”, offers 26 weeks of paid parental leave, 4 weeks of paid partner’s leave, and notably, one-on-one coaching for parents and leaders to facilitate transitions in and out of leave.

However, this is not the only major contribution von Dadelszen, also a partner and board member at the firm, has made through the course of an illustrious legal career. In this interview, she talks her love of supervising and mentoring, and throwing herself in the deep end as she improved her te reo.

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What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

My dad and my grandad were lawyers, so from a young age I knew about and was interested in, the law. Dad often worked in the evenings, and as kids we really enjoyed playing with the dictation machine and leaving him messages on his tapes (as you had in those days!). When it was time to decide what to study at university, I thought I would apply for law not thinking I'd get in – and when I was accepted it went from there.

I enjoy lots of different things about my job, and as I've got older it has become more and more varied. I obviously get to work on interesting issues and projects. Being on the board has meant that I have a better understanding of law as a business. Most of all though I enjoy the people I work alongside – my fellow partners, my clients and my team. I really enjoy supervising and mentoring and being part of others' legal careers. I feel very privileged to have watched so many develop and grow into amazing lawyers.

What is going on at the organisation? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

We have a really exciting leadership programme going on at the moment. It was introduced as a board initiative in 2020 to support the growth and development of our senior associates and special counsel. We recognise that leadership skills and consistent leadership are really important to our success as a firm.

As a partnership we are very aware of the challenges to our business at the moment – the great resignation, and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 with some people still feeling disconnected, anxious or burnt out. We know that people want more (and quite rightly expect more) from their workplaces, and there are a few bottom lines; they want us to be mindful of their wellbeing, they want to work flexibly, they want to be recognised for the great work they do (of course they do, we all do!) and they want genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion.

So, as part of our response to these challenges we have introduced an Emerging Leaders programme – upskilling our people to have strong and consistent leadership skills. We recognise that this isn’t easy or quick – it’s a constant journey of learning, making mistakes, being vulnerable and improving. We aren’t trained in this – we’re lawyers, and when we become supervisors (and senior lawyers in a firm) suddenly we’re expected to think about this stuff, be responsible for other people’s careers and be good at it (as well as everything else!). It starts with us as partners, and with the senior people in our business, and goes right to the heart of our culture. We’re committed to ensuring that our people are well equipped to lead, to take us further and to nurture and protect Buddle Findlay’s very unique culture.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

This is an easy question – definitely being a part of developing our new parental leave package. We know how hard it can be to be a parent and maintain your career, and the research tells us this is more challenging for women. After surveying and listening to our people, the partners formed a working group to tackle the Motherhood Penalty. We met fortnightly for several months to challenge, propose and test a new approach to our parental leave policy.

The package sets out to support mothers and families and takes a positive step forward to bringing about gender equity. This was particularly important to the working group. The package is underpinned by clear leadership expectations, return to work planning and budget relief. Both parents are eligible for 26 weeks of paid leave while they undertake the primary care of the child and can be taken within the first 24 months of the child being born. Buddle Findlay will also provide four weeks paid partner's leave, and again, this can be taken within the first 24 months of the child being born. The hope is that this will result in the responsibility for childcare being shared more equitably between the parents.

Buddle Findlay is also ensuring that when its parents take parental leave, KiwiSaver contributions continue, and holiday pay is at full value on return from leave. In addition, we now offer one-on-one coaching and a suite of online resources for both parents and leaders through an external provider, Grace Papers. The coaching is available prior, during and on return from parental leave, and supports the transition in and out of parental leave as well as navigating some of the complexities that come about later in parenting.

The partners are really proud of the new package and entitlements, and genuinely believe it reflects the importance Buddle Findlay places on supporting our people and their whānau.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

As chair of the diversity and inclusion committee, I'm passionate about creating a workplace that encourages all our people to develop and thrive. One of the journeys that many of our people have been on in the past year (myself included), is increasing our skills and confidence in te reo and tikanga Māori. As a board we set a firm wide goal of increasing our cultural capabilities. With the help of many of our people we have developed initiatives such as offering te reo and tikanga sessions, working on firm wide mihimihi to welcome new starters, and holding regular waiata practices.

It's really important to me that I help lead and support this kaupapa, so I threw myself in the deep end and took every opportunity I could to learn, practice and improve my te reo. It isn't easy standing up in front of an audience delivering your pepeha or a karakia for the first time, but now that I have, I'm feeling more confident, and the nerves are less each time I do it. So my advice to lawyers would be to get out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself and just give it a go! One of my friend's shared a very apt whakataukī – Nau mai te hapa, mā te hapa ka ako, patua te taniwha whakamā hi – which roughly means ''Welcome mistakes, through mistakes we learn. Feel the fear and do it anyway!" I really like this saying in this context and feel like it's a great one to hold on to if you want to grow.

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