Our Rally Cry: Game-Changing Career Support in Diapers
As a female executive with three children I have felt, deep in my bones, the fatigue of reporting to a board of directors after being up all night with a newborn and shaping strategic plans while seeking an appropriate place to pump at executive meetings. The impossible juggle of work and life, performer and mother, shapes my very DNA. A recent study by the American Economic Review calls out what we feel but don’t talk about enough: for women, having children is damaging to careers and pay equity. According to their research, the gender wage gap starts at nearly zero for recent college graduates and widens starkly, up to 55%, in the child-bearing years, with women falling behind drastically thereafter.
I have the enormous responsibility of maintaining the financial and operational sustainability of an organization. But I also bear the responsibility to be the voice of equality, to recognize and seek solutions to the issues that women face in life and the workplace. Sometimes this balance takes innovation to ensure our mission informs our operations, not the other way around.
At Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, we’ve worked hard to create a culture of engagement; acknowledging and addressing the ideas and priorities of our employees, including parental support. We offer a 12-week paid parental leave for all mothers, fathers and guardians, generous PTO and a “PTO donation” policy. We’ve added five days of paid bereavement leave for miscarriage; recognizing it as a life-altering physical and emotional experience. We created policies that prioritize work/life balance and in 2018, we were named a Top Workplace in Iowa for the first time ever, moving up to 2nd place in our category in 2019! But we knew we could do more to recognize humanity in the workplace and breakdown career barriers for women.
At the suggestion of an employee preparing to welcome her first child we began to research an innovative way to support new parents and Infants at Work was born. Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa’s Infants at Work program allows all parents (mothers, fathers and guardians) the option of bringing their infant to work with them every single day up to age six months, after they’ve utilized parental leave.
As a workplace with nearly 50 full time and 70 part-time employees, eight locations and a variety of office spaces- from cubicles and conference rooms to campgrounds and retail shops, we know this is “disruptive.” We know babies cry. We know they need attention and care and diapers and quiet places. And yes, we also know that productivity will dip for parents who are multi-tasking with their infant present. That’s true.
But we also know that we want to attract and retain talented employees, provide economic savings for employees, and support employees in their transition back to work. We know that parenthood doesn’t change the skills, dedication and experiences that we so highly value in our people. We want to support women who choose to nurse, and support babies in a developmental period of importance. We want to practice what we preach, and normalize a reality where having children and advancing your career are not mutually exclusive.
We’ve spent hours thinking through contingencies and vetting our new program. We held forums with our staff, to share drafts of the policy and listen to potential concerns and ideas. We’ve read case studies and conducted interviews on feasibility. We’ve developed policies right down to the “hows and wheres” of who can hold babies (designated staff who have opted-in to support) and where prolonged crying is welcomed (a designated parent/baby room). And we’ve invested in change, not just in our future, but in the future for all working parents, to raise the bar on what we could and should be doing to advocate for equality.
Last year I conducted a final interview to fill an important vacancy in our organization, a chief officer position of whom much is expected. The candidate was excellent. We all eagerly shook hands and discussed possible next steps. The candidate paused and nervously said, “I feel that it’s only right to tell you that I am expecting my first child. I am excited about this role and I hope it doesn’t affect your hiring decision but I felt it was right to let you know.”
Thanks to advocates before me, it’s illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in the hiring process. Not only did we hire that exceptional candidate, she is now the first in a line of seven employees who have or will welcome babies into their lives this year- parents who won’t be pressured to choose between career and parenthood, but will be supported in both.
She’s back at work. She strategizes, empowers people and contributes in the ways that exceptional employees do. The difference now, is that the muffled sound of her cooing baby occasionally carries through my office door. Our executive meetings now start with a group of people pausing to smile and speak baby talk to the little person bundled into our group. Then the meeting proceeds.
Empowering people is our rally cry. It’s tiny and comes in swaddling clothes. But it’s a start.
*There are a variety of solutions to support new parents in the workplace: extended paid parental leave, on-site day care, telecommuting & more. We've made the choices at this time that work best with our resources and infrastructure. We have a variety of positions that utilize telecommuting, as well as positions that are customer facing and important to the daily operations on site. We're an organization seeking improvement every day and this is a step we're proud of to support our working parents within the constraints we have. This option works well for our workplace. Other workplaces may have systems that work better for their infrastructure and culture.
Baby Finley, our first Infant at Work. Find more information on our website.