Best Employers for Moms Promote Leave-Taking

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Kristen Gerencher

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Extended-leave allowances and a growing number of paid paternity programs mark some of the achievements of the employers named on Working Mother magazine's 21st annual "100 Best Companies" list.

"They are not only offering more paid time off, but they're also extending the amount of time, giving moms more choices," said Suzanne Riss, editor in chief of Working Mother magazine in New York.

Employers are finding that maternity leave and 12 weeks unpaid time off guaranteed under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act aren't enough to retain talented moms and attract new ones, she said. "Now companies want to give more time, and more paid time."

Among the top 10 employers cited, PricewaterhouseCoopers gives moms up to five years off in its "Full Circle" program, IBM allows up to three years of personal leave and outdoor-gear retailer Patagonia encourages new moms returning from maternity leave to design flexible work arrangements, Riss said.

Some moms prefer more flexibility over long leaves, and the companies on the list are committed to accommodating them, she said. "They're really changing the meaning of where, when and how you work," Riss said. "With all the technology available, there's no reason a lot of employees have to be in the office nine to five."

The companies in the top 10 differ in size and yet manage to find some innovative solutions. IBM has 131,000 U.S. workers while Patagonia counts 671. The percentage of female employees ranged from 31 percent at IBM to 83 percent at Bon Secours Richmond Health System. "It requires deep pockets in some instances, but in a lot of instances it requires creative thinking," Riss said. "That's what so exiting for us.

It's not just giant companies that are able to make the list. It's not enough to have great programs. You also have to prove to us that employees are using them."


The top 10

The companies Working Mother scored the highest are, in alphabetical order:

1. Abbott, a drug and diagnostics company based in Abbott Park, Ill.

2. Bon Secours Richmond Health System in Virginia.

3. Ernst & Young LLP, an accounting and auditing firm in New York.

4. HSBC-North America, a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings, in Prospect Heights, Ill.

5. IBM Corp., a computer maker and service provider in Armonk, N.Y.

6. JPMorgan Chase, a financial services firm in New York.

7. Patagonia Inc., of Ventura, Calif.

8. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an accounting and auditing firm in New York.

9. Principal Financial Group, of Des Moines, Iowa.

10. S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., a consumer-products maker in Racine, Wis.

Eighteen companies were new to the list and seven were new to the top 10 this year, Riss said. About 350 companies applied. The three returning for an encore appearance in the top 10 after doing so last year are IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers and S.C. Johnson. The vast majority of companies offered a range of flexibility and benefits less frequently found in the general labor market.

Nearly all offered a compressed work week compared with just a third surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management, which Working Mother used as a benchmark for the national average. Job sharing, health insurance for part-time workers and eldercare and child care referrals also were far more prevalent among employers represented on the list.

What's more, 91 percent of the 100 Best Companies had lactation programs or private areas other than bathrooms or broom closets designated for nursing mothers to pump breast milk for their babies compared with 23 percent in the general employer population.

Paid paternity leave, while still a rare find, is on the rise, Riss said, allowing moms to have partners available to help at the time of birth. The number of companies in the top 10 offering time off to new dads is up 19 percent over last year, as is paid adoption leave, Riss said. "Companies are increasingly recognizing parents who adopt, and adoption is becoming more popular as more moms are delaying having kids."

IBM and Johnson & Johnson have been named to the list for the full 21 years. Merck has made the cut 20 years while Procter & Gamble has been included 19 years.


Old pros and newbies

This is Cornell University's first time on the 100-best list. Its faculty and staff can take advantage of a sliding-scale child-care grant for those earning $9,000 to $150,000 a year, said Lynette Chappell-Williams, director of the school's workforce diversity, equity and life quality. "Cornell also has an adoption assistance program that provides up to $5,000 reimbursement for domestic and international adoptions," she said. "That's been another huge hit with our employees."

Workers can attend free workshops on parenting over the lunch hour or check out a new babysitting referral list to help locate sitters in the area, Chappell-Williams said. An on-campus summer camp that takes as many as 200 kids a week provides all-day educational and recreational activities, she said. "For faculty who are doing their research in the summer, it's a great way for them to know their kids have something to do where their brains aren't turning to jelly," Chappell-Williams said. "It's a great opportunity for our graduate students as well as faculty and staff." Such programs ensure that the university attracts quality employees, she said. "It's one of those things if you don't do it you notice it because it's much more difficult to recruit."

Chappell-Williams said she's a classic example, having joined the university seven years ago with plans to stay only two years. "I'm a single mom. I work from home two days a week. I have a mother with Alzheimer's," she said. "If it weren't for the flexibility I have, there's no way I could stay because I have no family in the area."


Flexible approaches

At Kraft Foods, also in the top 100, new moms can take three months beyond their maternity leaves to transition back to full-time work, said Jill Youman, vice president of the company's human resources, global diversity and benefits. "They can work part time for up to three months and have full-time benefits and not have to worry that anything changes relative to their benefits program," she said. Youman said a woman working in her department is going on maternity leave within days to have her third child.

"After her maternity leave, she's going to come back part time for three months, and then in the next couple of months she would like to work one day a week at home. We're letting her do that as well." Kraft doesn't offer paid paternity leave to new dads in the U.S. but is considering adding it, Youman said.

For new moms, the company has had lactation rooms in many of its facilities for about eight years. Kraft also has some women who share jobs, though that often requires a certain mix of personalities, she said. "If you're someone who likes to see the project through on your own, it can be difficult because you have to do the hand-off quite a bit." Two women in her group recently tried it for two years, Youman said. "From our perspective they were doing a nice job, but they weren't feeling fully satisfied so we turned it into two part-time jobs and everybody was happier," she said.

Many employees at Wells Fargo, also part of the 100-best list, work out alternatives such as telecommuting with their managers, said Avid Modjtabai, director of the company's human resources in San Francisco. "I've worked in other companies where you can't have that choice, where if you want to maintain a specific career you have to be 100% there or it's not an option," she said. "We absolutely don't have that kind of a culture at Wells Fargo." Of the company's 156,000 employees, 62 percent are women and women make up 40 percent of senior managers, she said.

Employees can take a personal leave for up to six months and return to a comparable job. Though it's unpaid, they can receive health benefits, tuition reimbursement for classes and can use the employee-assistance program. And paid time off banks allow workers to take 25 to 30 days a year, depending on how long they've been there, in addition to company holidays. "That provides flexibility for using your time for personal or other reasons." Working moms and dads need to feel like they can have a personal life and professional life, Modjtabai said. "We always focus on creating an environment where team members feel successful and supported, and that's what drives our programs."

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