Aetna maternity leaveAetna Life & Casualty Co., which...


December 23, 1991

Aetna maternity leave

Aetna Life & Casualty Co., which implemented a family-leave program for employees in 1988, estimates its leave policy saved the company $2 million in the 12 months ending June 30 of this year.

In a "first-ever" corporate analysis of how much money it saved, the Hartford, Conn.-based insurance and financial-services company attributes the savings to the high retention rate of its new mothers returning to work.

"The year before we implemented the policy, only 77 percent of the women who went on maternity disability returned to work," said Sherry Herchenroether, manager of Aetna's family-services department. "This year, however, we retained 91 percent of those who took disability and family leaves."

Aetna, 70 percent of whose 48,000 employees are women, recently surveyed 268 women who took family leave and returned to work in the 12-month period.

Of that number, 117 women said they would not have returned if they had only the usual six weeks' disability most companies offer. Instead, Aetna employees have up to six months of unpaid family leave with benefits, seniority and guaranteed jobs.

Disabilities advocate

Ask Deborah Morris about her years of activism, and she will respond with her usual biting humor and bluntness.

"I don't consider myself Gandhi, [I'm not] doing it for the good of the cause or for better karma the next time around," said Ms. Morris, a dedicated advocate for people with disabilities.

"I took a self-critical look at my skill sets and how I could make a difference."

Ms. Morris, who stands 4 feet 2 inches because of a congenital bone disease, is reluctant to be branded as some sort of mythical "super crip," as she jokingly refers to herself.

Ms. Morris doesn't like to be pigeonholed. And in her work as an advocate, and currently as diversity programs manager at Sun Microsystems Inc. in San Jose, Calif., she fights against similar stereotyping.

When she came to Sun in July, she rejected traditional "affirmative action" categories in favor of a much broader definition of diversity, including categories such as culture, age and sexual orientation.

She used her humor to disarm people.

When she was introduced to the management team at Sun, she broke the ice by making jokes about politically correct terms for the disabled, and the room burst into laughter when Ms. Morris said she wanted to be called "vertically challenged."

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