How Sony Music's new childcare scheme is sounding out cost-of-living support
- 7 Min Read
Liz Jeffery, Sony Music’s Vice President of People Experience, discusses the company’s new £15,000 childcare initiative aiming to help employees through the cost-of-living crisis.
In October of 2022, Sony Music announced a £15,000 childcare scheme to help its employees manage through the cost-of-living crisis. The music giant will offer employees grants of up to £15,000 to help with childcare fees and charges, taking an enormous burden off working parents struggling to make ends meet. We spoke with Liz Jeffery, Sony’s Vice President of People Experience, about what the scheme means to Sony and its employees, how it will specifically help women in the workforce and what challenges she sees in HR, in general, for 2023 and beyond.
Q: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges for employees and employers right now, given the cost-of-living crisis and economic uncertainty around the world?
At Sony Music UK, we are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion across our business and providing support for parents is a really important part of this. We recognise that this is a really tough time for people across the country, with rising costs heightening anxieties and worry. Those on low or middle incomes and those with greater financial burdens are particularly affected.
The high cost of childcare in the UK – the third-highest worldwide – means that parents, who must also bear the increasing cost of housing, council tax and energy, are more likely to face difficult choices in the months ahead. We know that the choices this pressure imposes can be tough, with the burden unfairly in large part falling on mothers, who are too often forced into part-time work or out of the workforce entirely as it becomes financially unviable.
Q: Tell us about this scheme and why it’s important to Sony Music?
We have a longstanding commitment to ensuring our company is a great place to work and that employees see the value we put in them. For me and my team, a key part of this commitment is looking closely at what we can do to help address issues that can be an unjust barrier for women in advancing their career. That’s why we launched our Childcare Support programme, available to all UK employees, at a time when they need it most.
The programme is structured to offer tapered grants, linked to an individual employee’s salary, and as a result, lower and middle earners benefit the most, receiving up to a maximum of £15,000 per year towards childcare costs.
We hope this policy could be the difference between someone returning to work and flourishing in their career rather than feeling the need to leave the workplace. As such, this is an important next step in our work to increase the number of women in roles throughout our company. We’ve made positive strides here, with a 50:50 gender balance for our UK record company staff, and 48 per cent of the Senior Management Team, such as record label presidents, managing directors and corporate department heads, are occupied by women. There’s always more to do and in the years to come, I look forward to seeing these figures progress further.
Q: Were there any roadblocks in introducing the programme? Any key stakeholder pushback?
There was strong backing from senior leadership across the business and our record labels. We are passionate about making sure that no employee is left behind at Sony Music UK and we’re always looking for ways to improve the support we offer. That’s why our industry-leading employee benefits policies are structured to drive a more equitable company culture. From our Equal Parental Leave policy to our Childcare Support programme, every employee benefits from the schemes we provide and as a result we have experienced minimal internal friction.
We hope that current and future policies will help generate a more inclusive and equitable company culture in which each individual feels valued and heard.
Q: In what ways do you think this programme will specifically help women in the industry?
Too often, childcare responsibilities have been a barrier to career progression for women across the music industry. This shouldn’t be the case, which is why we are looking at what we can do to help tackle these issues.
As we have seen time and time again, young parents are forced to choose between meeting the third highest childcare cost in the world or one parent, too often mothers, leaving the workforce to care for children themselves. By tackling the root cause of this dilemma, we hope our Childcare Support programme will help alleviate some of the barriers to women’s success in the music industry.
But we know that this is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to ensuring women in the music industry can thrive. That’s why over a number of years, we have sought to introduce a series of measures to tackle many of the other barriers women face. For example in 2018, we were the first private sector company in the UK to offer full pay during the period in which a baby is born before full term through our Neonatal Policy. We also introduced a comprehensive Parental Leave benefit – equal to 52 weeks of paid maternity leave – as well as Core Hours, Flexible Working, and our Menopause and Domestic Abuse policies, which we implemented in partnership with Women’s Aid. In addition, all parents benefit from free Childcare Support, whether that’s emergency support or booking children in for holiday camps.
Our commitment to supporting and advancing women in the music industry also includes focusing on helping emerging talent succeed. We know that when we nurture our employees they can realise their full potential, and that’s why we aim to ensure that all our leadership programmes are balanced by gender.
This is a constantly evolving and improving programme of benefits and support with the ultimate aim of encouraging people to stay in work and continue to advance their career rather than being forced to leave the workforce.
Q: How can HR support managers?
With tough times ahead, support for managers from People Experience will be more important than ever. We want to ensure that managers are well-equipped to support staff through any challenges they may face. Understanding any challenges our employees face will also be key, as we strive for a diverse and inclusive company.
To do this, our managers aim to lead with empathy, listening and ensuring employees feel heard. And where needed, managers are encouraged to personalise their approach. This is what’s working best on the ground now.
Q: You announced this programme in October 2022, have you seen any results from it in terms of employee retention or attraction?
I have been personally moved by the huge positive response to our childcare programme from staff. We had one employee tell us that because of the huge cost of childcare they had contemplated finding another job and taking their child out of nursery. They said this had taken a huge toll on their mental health, and that reading about the introduction of this policy had brought them to tears. Through personal stories like these, it’s clear that the policy is already making a real difference for people.
Q: Looking forward into 2023, what do you see as some of the biggest challenges HR will face, given the current economic situation?
Going into the new year, the mental wellbeing of our employees will be a key area of focus for us. We are working with employees at all levels to ensure everyone feels supported. As part of this work, in the new year we will be hosting mental health wellness events for our employees, building on many previous initiatives in this space, including our partnership with the charity Mind to research mental health interventions for young people affected by racism.