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Where you work has a big impact on your life as a working mama. To understand just what makes a company mom-friendly, I spoke with Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother and director of the Working Mother Research Institute about the magazine’s 2012 Working Mother 100 Best Companies. In between meetings (of course!), the mother of two —she has a daughter, Gwendolyn, 9, and a son, Owen, 5—dished on what it takes to make the cut, where the workplace still has room for improvement and her absolute favorite company perk for working moms.
Q: What are the three most important qualities of a Working Mother 100 Best Company?
Jennifer Owens: Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility! I'm kidding, a bit, but the concept of flexibility is a seriously needed benefit that all companies need to offer—not only their working moms, but to their entire workforce.
Beyond flex, another important benefit is paid maternity, paternity and adoption leave. Too many employers still do not offer paid maternity leave. In fact, according to the annual Society for Human Resource Management benefits survey, only 16 percent of U.S. employers do. To even be considered for the Working Mother 100 Best Companies, a company must offer some form of paid maternity leave.
Third, I'd say a Best Company creates a supportive culture that starts with communication from the top, [letting everyone know] that this company is family-friendly, as well as training for managers on how to handle work-life issues and flexible work requests from their staff. Also part of this equation is a fair and reason-neutral approach to allowing flexibility — one that gives everyone the opportunity to benefit from a company's family-friendly policies, even if the employee doesn't have children at home.
Q: What was the most significant difference between this year’s Best Company winners and last year’s?
A: This year saw growth in the number of women at the manager level among the Best Companies—to 43 percent from 40 percent in 2011. That's a welcome increase. We also saw the percentage of employees using flex at the Best Companies rise 2 points to 77 percent.
Q: What do companies still need to work on?
A: A big focus for us this year, and for the Best Companies as well, is the concept of employee wellness. More and more we're hearing from work-life practitioners and human resource professionals that wellness is their number one concern, especially as staff sizes and budgets stay squeezed. Workplace stress isn't going away anytime soon, so they're asking themselves, How do we respond?
Q: What is your favorite “perk” of a 100 Best Company?
A: The on-site nap room, hands down. Of the Best Companies, 23 have them. Twenty three!
Q: Any advice for working moms on how they can help their companies become more like the 100 Best Companies?
A: First, I'd leave a copy of our October issue on your HR leader’s desk. Next, if your company doesn't already have one, I'd start networking with fellow working parents at your company to create a working parent employee resource group (ERG). These groups can be a great way to gather and share the information your company already has regarding work-life issues and to generate strategies for improvement. One way to learn more about ERGs is to click here to learn about our biannual event for ERG leaders.