What We Can Learn From The Company With 100% Retention Of Mothers

d&i strategies smart and flexible working Jan 24, 2017

Instead of placing focus on how to support mothers who just had a baby or needs childcare, many companies tackle maternity as managing the “problem” of pregnancy, and its outcome: demanding babies, needy children, teenagers who need time and attention.

And yet we wonder why women are absent at the top levels of management. The answer? Place a higher value on care-giving.

For 33 years Patagonia has had an on-site childcare centre that, according to Quartz, “bears little resemblance to what anyone might imagine corporate on-site childcare looks like.” It is run by teachers, some of whom are bilingual and trained in child development.

Learning takes place outdoors as much as in and parents often eat lunch with their kids. Patagonia buses school-aged kids back to the company’s headquarters, allowing parents to connect with them after school over chocolate milk.

Getting Priorities Right

This childcare program was not put in place to fight the war for talent, or because its executives wanted to fix the leaky pipeline of women leaving before reaching senior management levels. When Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s iconic founder, and his wife Malinda started the company, their employees were friends and family and they wanted to support them as they worked, and started their families. The solution was not to fix a problem, but to respond to what humans need, including a place to nurse newborns, and later, to provide safe and stimulating child care.

The results three decades later are not surprising: 100% of the women who have had children at Patagonia over the past five years have returned to work, significantly higher than the 79% average in the US. About 50% of managers are women, and 50% of the company’s senior leaders are women. Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, said: “It’s a natural outcome of providing this kind of support, not just to working moms but to working dads too.”

Patagonia’s Ventura childcare centre, called the Great Pacific Child Development Center (GPCDC) has 28 staff, and another 5 at a customer service and distribution plant in Reno. The two sites serve 80 kids. The two childcare centres are not free: employees pay. Tuition is based on market rates, so Ventura is more expensive than Reno (and two kids are more expensive than one, and there are differences based on age).

What Patagonia Offers

New mothers get 16 weeks fully paid maternity leave and fathers and adoptive mothers get 12 weeks of fully paid leave (that kicks in 9 months after you start, which was intentional: if you get pregnant on your first day of work, you are eligible). The childcare is run by very well-trained teachers (who subscribe to things like the idea that effort matters more than raw ability). Fields trips to the beach, library and horse rescue centre are common, as is cooking in the “messy kitchen” and building things in the yard.

All employees get 12 weeks of full pay for any serious medical condition, or a serious medical condition of a spouse, domestic partner, child or parent arises. It offers 12 weeks for an employee’s active military duty, and 12 weeks to care for a member of the military.

Parents who need to travel for work can bring a nanny or partner with them—Patagonia foots the bill. If a partner can’t come, one of the teachers can. Mothers have full access to their infants, and nursing in meetings is fine, though plenty of women opt to just go next door and do it.

Why It Matters

While many companies are making an effort these days, it’s all too easy for these benefits to look more like an attempt to boost recruitment and retention of women and dress up those numbers, than an honest effort to make work-life balance for all parents possible.

Some might say those jobs aren’t for people who want balance. But that view doesn’t go over well with millennials, who will make up 75% of the workforce within a decade. They want meaning in their work, and respect for a life beyond work. They are putting off kids and families to later, but not forever. This is a group of people who have been insistent about taking their pets to work, so don’t you think they’ll feel the same about their children?

Most of the above information was taken from this article on Quartz. I just thought it was so fantastic, I had to share it on the Thriving Talent News & Insights page as an example of best practice.  

If you would like to know more about best practices employers use to support working parents, get in touch, and we would be happy to share more information.

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