Companies must earn a family-friendly title

September 29, 1998|By SUSAN REIMER

FOR ITS 13TH ANNUAL guide to the 100 best companies for working mothers, Working Mother magazine has tightened the screws on those corporations that now clamor to make this list.

Equal pay, child care benefits and job flexibility are not enough by themselves anymore. Deputy Editor Deborah Wilburn and her researchers looked to see if these programs were more than window dressing.

Simply putting a program out there and waiting for women employees to sign up doesn't work if women fear that their boss will be angered or their career hobbled if they take advantage of it, Wilburn reasoned.

"You have to look at whether this is a Band-Aid approach or a public relations effort," she says.

So Working Mother researchers looked to see if work-life programs were well-used, if managers were trained in work-life issues and if their pay was linked to their effectiveness in dealing with these issues.

Along the way, Working Mother found lots of family-friendly perks ZTC and makes note of them in the October special issue, which is on newsstands now.

Among them, lactation programs that provide nursing mothers with pumps and a private area to use them. Scholarships for kids. Paid sabbaticals of up to a year or unpaid leave of up to three years with full benefits.

Back-up or emergency child care, before-school, after-school and vacation child-care programs. Two hours a week to volunteer at your child's school. On-site medical care.

"When we started, child care was the issue," says Wilburn. "That evolved into flexibility as the issue. That has taken hold. It is becoming part of the corporate culture."

She is talking about job-sharing, part-time employment, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, flex-time. The kind of work schedules that allow women, and men, to do their job and take care of their families with limited hardship to both.

Companies are beginning to see that these accommodations are not just humane, they increase productivity, morale, employee loyalty and -- most important of all -- the bottom line.

But flexibility is still resisted by many companies and many managers. Face it, corporations are run by men of a previous generation, men whose wives stayed home with the kids. These men are suspicious of workers who want the company to accommodate itself to their child's soccer schedule or field trip or class play.

And there is often a double standard. Men who leave work early to coach a son's baseball team are seen as good fathers. Women who leave early to pick up a sick child are seen as distracted and undependable. Likewise, a childless worker who would like to arrange her schedule so she can train for a marathon or take a college course will be viewed askance, if not flatly refused.

"The next frontier is to look at how work is done and when," says Wilburn, "and arrange it so people can get their work done in a timely way and meet family needs.

"Not all work must be done between 9 and 5. Let's look at all 24 hours and see when it makes sense to get the work done."

This idea of co-mingling work and family life is scary for companies. Tell your boss that you'd like to find a way to get your job done and still be the assistant soccer coach and he is likely to worry that coaching soccer will become more important to you than the job he needs done.

"But that is not what happens," says Wilburn. "Let's be honest. People need their jobs. People want their jobs. They are just looking for a way to work so that they are not so stressed and so stretched that they can't attend to the things that matter to them."

Business must realize that there is more at stake here than the effectiveness and productivity of today's workers. Because today's workers are also busy raising and educating tomorrow's workers.

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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