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Parental Leave Case Study: Tax Traders

Our co-founder Nicola Taylor recently spoke with Crayon about the core beliefs that shape Tax Traders, and how those impact our parental leave policy. 

Building a parental leave policy that works for both caregivers and employers doesn't happen overnight, but our approach proves that when guided by a strong DNA and unwavering core values, great things can happen.

Read the full interview below, and visit Crayon's website to learn more about their mission. 


Hi Nicola! Can you tell us about yourself and about Tax Traders?

My husband Josh and I started Tax Traders in 2012 at our kitchen table in Onehunga. Josh had been through a bruising redundancy, at which point, we reassessed what we could contribute with our skills and experience. We are both lawyers with experience in tax. When we looked at the tax system, we knew we could bring positive changes to it. So with three small children (including a newborn!), we started Tax Traders.

We started with two core beliefs that still underpin all of our work. Firstly, a tax system should be fair and transparent, and benefits should be accessible to all taxpayers. We believed the benefits of the tax pooling framework should have been available to all businesses in Aotearoa, not just big businesses, but this wasn’t the case. The businesses that could benefit the most from tax-enabled cash flow flexibility could not access it. By automating the complex legislative framework and the cumbersome process, we enabled accountants to offer these benefits to their clients.

Our second belief was that business could be a force for good and see meaningful change in the world. Work shouldn’t be dreadful for people. In fact, it can be a place of joy and satisfaction, even a place for healing, hope and love. You can have all the benefits and policies in the world, but if the workplace culture is negative or unsupportive, it’s very difficult to arrive at home or daycare and give your best to your family.

With these enormous aspirations, we sold our home to fund the business and moved into a friend’s house (they were overseas) when our youngest was 6 days old. We worked extremely hard, long days and wakeful nights without an income for 18 months as we built the infrastructure and talked to clients about our offering. We got down to our last $3,000. It was wild!!

But we knew there was a need, and we began to get some key clients on board. And whilst it’s not all been smooth sailing - with COVID-19, changes to tax policy and interest rate increases - we’ve experienced strong growth since.

You co-founded Tax Traders in 2012. When did Tax Trader first roll out a parental leave policy? What sparked this move? What was the initial offering?

Like most start-ups, our focus in the early days was survival, not parental leave policies (or any policies, to be honest). That being said, from the very beginning, we believed that people shouldn’t have to leave their personal lives at the door and put on a “work self”.

The need for parental leave support arose when our first female employee became pregnant with her first child. That was significant because it made us consider: what it meant to combine parenting and a vocation well, how we wanted our parents to feel about themselves, their careers and their families, and what it meant to embrace a team member holistically.

Our first offering was totally bespoke, but critically it included 6 months of paid parental leave for the father (he also worked for us!), which he took and was the sole caregiver for our first baby. This wee baby is so precious to us as she grew up with us in a way. In fact, she used to spend 1-2 days a week in the office with us!

How has the policy evolved over time? And when did these evolutions happen, e.g., was it when you hit certain revenue milestones?

Revenue has had nothing to do with our decision to add to our parental leave policy or any of our people and culture policies. I believe that if you’re driven by revenue milestones rather than doing what is right for a human, you will probably never introduce the policies that really make a difference. Our policies have evolved as (1) our team has evolved and told us what would really help them thrive, and (2) the research on the impact of these policies has evolved.

You have an exceptionally generous policy by NZ standards, particularly given the size of your business - paid parental leave of 6 months for both parents. Does it make financial sense? Where do you see the financial returns?

It makes human sense first and foremost, and then it makes sense from a societal and business view as a force for good. This is the motivation. The research around paternity leave is fascinating - for every month a dad takes parental leave, the mother’s earnings are almost 7% higher 4 years down the track. This is a business policy directly contributing to the issues of gender equity. We don’t have to wait for the government. We also believe our policies will make a difference to the imbalance we see with women in business leadership positions. There’s also evidence that shows fathers who take parental leave have a stronger bond with their child for 9 years+, the couple is less likely to split, and the rates of family violence fall.

In a financial sense, we have very high employee retention, we attract the very best people and never struggle to find people for our roles, and we have high employee engagement and commitment. Our people are committed to our work and our culture, and they give us their best every day.

What advantages do small businesses have over larger corporates when it comes to supporting employees on parental leave?

The biggest advantage small businesses have is the ability to introduce an idea or a policy quickly and easily without having to go through layers of hierarchy and then iterate quickly if they find that it’s not quite working for their parents. The policy doesn’t have to be perfect immediately because it’s easy to get real-time feedback and amend it accordingly.

The other distinguishing feature of a smaller business is that losing a key person on your team is much more significant just because there are fewer of you! So the financial impetus for retaining working parents and finding a solution that is life-giving for them and your business is that much higher.

What disadvantages do small businesses face compared to larger corporates when it comes to supporting employees on parental leave? And what can they do about it?

Small businesses may have competing financial priorities that can have a much bigger impact on their business than larger businesses. This makes your approach to families foundational in the early days. There will always be competing priorities.

Companies spend money on all sorts of things - Christmas parties, car parks, client gifting etc. At the end of the day, it's about what you prioritise. You have to decide what you won’t compromise on and build your business around this.

Tax Traders’ support doesn’t end when parental leave ends. How did you figure out what else working parents at Tax Traders needed?

We asked them! Asking - not presuming - is so important. That requires having a culture where people feel safe to be honest about what they need is key. We do have a lot of support available for our team, but sometimes it feels like it’s the least we can do. We have the most amazing parents on the team, and to support them is a privilege!

And sometimes, we stumble across something by accident. Our school holiday programme started because one beautiful sunny day, I walked into the office and saw a couple of children sitting inside on their iPads while their mother was in the office working. It occurred to me that just down the road was our house with a pool, our own three children and a world of holiday opportunities waiting. I figured it would be a small expense to find a nanny to look after these wonderful young people and it would make a huge difference to the “working parent guilt” that so many of us experience during holidays.

We now have a fun schedule that gets put together for certain weeks of holidays. We vary the nanny support we need and the activities we provide. It’s wonderful to see parents turn up at work with their very excited children. This has been a process of trial and error, and I imagine it will continue to evolve.

But it all comes back to our DNA and our desire to see our people acknowledged fully, not just as “workers”.

I’ve also reflected on what might have worked for me when I had our first child. Sometimes the most important thing a new mother can hear is, “You’ve got this, and we are here every step of the way. We believe in your gifts and your parenting. We are going to co-create something incredible. It’s going to be busy but don’t give up on your dream to do well at work or your dream to be an incredible parent.”.

What is your advice to small business owners who want to improve how they support expecting parents?

Work out what your vision is for your team and your culture. Start there. Ask your people what would mean the most to them, and be ready for responses you aren’t expecting. Look at the research and data to understand why it makes sense to keep working parents on the team. Look at what other companies are doing now that there’s a register for that!

What do you wish you had done earlier or known early as an employer when it comes to parental leave?

I didn’t realise how unique our offering was or how it could be an important part of our employment brand and recruitment proposition. It is very powerful in this regard.