New managers focus on needs of working women

July 20, 1992|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

When Arlene A. Johnson had her first child, she was a high school teacher in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

"I couldn't find a baby sitter, but there was a shortage of teachers, so they let me set up a playpen in the classroom," said Ms. Johnson, now program director for work force research at the Conference Board, a New York business think tank.

"I even had a private room to nurse the baby. It was highly unusual, but I would have had to quit if the school hadn't been flexible."

That was in 1970, when women were beginning to flood the paid labor market, and most employers passionately believed that family responsibilities were not their concern.

Today, with 58 million employed women, businesses are changing their minds: Work and family have become a bottom-line business issue.

"The cost of turnover and loss of talent is beginning to be measured," said Ms. Johnson.

One result of the new focus is the creation of the job of work/family manager. Some 400 U.S. companies now have work/family managers, 200 of them named since 1990.

Work/family managers usually are in the human resources department, where they monitor existing programs, create and implement new ones and research future needs.

Among companies that have work/family managers are Aetna Life & Casualty Co., American Telephone & Telegraph Co., BankAmerica Corp., Corning Inc., Du Pont Co., Eastman Kodak Co., Hewitt Associates, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott Corp. and Time-Warner Inc.

"The new position reflects the fact that work/family programs are getting a permanent place on human resource agendas," said Ms. Johnson. "There's a recognition that productivity is related to meeting the needs of a more diverse work force, and work/family managers address those needs."

According to a recent survey of 70 work/family managers conducted by the Conference Board, salaries average $57,000 annually but vary greatly.

In 1987, Rosemary Mans, a vice president at Bank of America in San Francisco, submitted a proposal for a new job category of work/family manager. She got the job and the title.

"I don't manage existing programs, but I do find out what the emerging issues are, what are employee and corporate needs, and what should be the rules of the game," said Ms. Mans, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Wellesley College and a master's in marketing from Golden State University.

The Bank of America has 90,000 employees, and Ms. Mans has helped create the company's family leave and sick day policies and alternative work arrangements.

"My motivation is not personal," stressed Ms. Mans, who helped formulate California's child care initiative to recruit and train child care providers. "I see work/family issues as complex and interesting problems that organizations need to solve."

But Wendy Starr, manager of life cycle programs and policies for Xerox Corp., headquartered in Stam ford, Conn., knows firsthand the problems of juggling career and family. Ms. Starr, who has a bachelor's degree in religion from Wesleyan College and a master's in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is married and has two children under the age of 4.

"I'm responsible for working with the director of corporate benefits, Pat Nazemetz, to create an overall life cycle strategy for the corporation's 56,000 U.S. employees," Ms. Starr said. "I look at job structure, flexible time, benefits and services we offer such as elder and child care referral and adoption assistance. I also look at the pithy stuff, such as changing the corporate culture to recognize employee needs and incorporate them into the way we do business -- much the way that quality and customer satisfaction are important."

Ms. Starr says being work/family manager is a "fantasy job. It's a growing field, and it incorporates everything I care about."

Michael A. Snipes, compensation and benefits director of Allstate Insurance Co., does not have the title of work/family manager, but it's an important part of his responsibilities.

"It's an emerging field, and some companies are not using the title as yet," said Mr. Snipes, who has a bachelor's in business from Michigan State University and has worked for Allstate for 26 years. "At Allstate, we're trying to integrate work and family with everything we do."

The company, known for its outstanding work/family programs, has 54,000 employees nationwide. Mr. Snipes sees the programs as "an investment in our employees."

The director says "the bottom line is they save us money. It may run as high as $60,000 to train someone for sales and $30,000 for claims adjusters. We want to retain employees."

Allstate is proud of its employee-friendly programs and low turnover.

Work/family managers, said Mr. Snipes, "make the policies come alive, and that's where the rubber meets the road."

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