Collins was no stranger to the stresses of working moms when she interviewed
for a job in Memphis four years ago. The mother of three, whose youngest
at the time was six months old, hailed from a company where she felt
guilty for every child-induced absence.
Imagine her surprise, then, when during her job search a prospective
boss heard about her family and declared, "Just let me know what
"I knew I was in the right place immediately," says Collins, who
snapped up the job as director of human resources for Memphis-based
Archer/Malmo Inc., a 110-employee advertising and marketing communications
firm. Four years later she's still a happy worker … and a happy
Women have been melding careers and motherhood for decades. But
companies are becoming ever more proactive as they create benefits
that make it easier for women to balance their employee and motherhood
"Companies have realized these benefits are not just a PR ploy,"
says Susan Lapinski, editor-in-chief of Working Mother magazine.
"They really do benefit the bottom line."
Lapinski should know. For 18 years, Working Mother has tracked
mom-friendly benefits on its list of "100 Best Companies for Working
Mothers." And while progressive businesses in 1986 focused mainly
on child care, companies that make the list today offer flexible
work hours, programs for teens and "tweens," adoption assistance
and elder care.
"Companies are getting better and better scoping out what families
need from them," Lapinski says.
Part of that comes from necessity. According to the Department
of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26.1 million women in the
workforce had children younger than 18 in 2002. That's an almost
79 percent increase from the 14.6 million working women in 1975
with similarly aged children.
But the larger reason is more abstract. Companies in the 1980s
found themselves losing a talented pool of workers who realized
they couldn't both work and raise a family, Collins says. Mother-friendly
benefits began as a way to retain those workers. They've stayed
because "people have that great inner peace about doing a great
job at work and having a solid family at home."
Companies that help moms balance work and home run the gamut. According
to a 2003 benefits survey by the Society for Human Resource Management,
nearly three-quarters of the businesses surveyed offer dependent-care
flexible spending accounts. More than half offer flextime. And while
large companies are most likely to offer an array of family-friendly
benefits, smaller firms have flexibility that their larger counterparts
do not. That's most often seen in emergency situations, when small
companies are more willing to let mothers bring their children to
Such flexibility is what attracted Collins to Archer/Malmo. With
just over 100 employees, the firm works with individual employees
to devise benefits that fit their lifestyles. After the birth of
her first child, one employee began working through lunch so she
could leave at 4 p.m., Collins says. Another fashioned her own flextime
schedule. And the agency routinely offers extended maternity leaves
to ensure employees are really ready to return to work.
At the other end of the spectrum is Intel Corp., the $8 billion
chip and computer products manufacturer based in Santa Clara, CA.
The global company, which has appeared on Working Mother's
list for two years, offers an array of programs aimed at making
it easier for working moms to achieve balance in their lives.
Besides dependent-care spending accounts, customized childcare
and flexible working arrangements, the company recently formed the
Intel Parents Network. That group -- created and managed by employees
with children -- aims to support workers as they become parents,
as they return to work from maternity leave and as their children
enter the anxiety-prone teen years, says Gail Dundas, corporate
Intel also looks for ways to support its working mothers on a daily
basis. Among its offerings: 40 nursing mother rooms in more than
seven of its U.S. locations. Stations offer comfortable chairs,
refrigerators for storing expressed milk and sinks for cleaning
"People who haven't had to do it might say, 'What difference does
that make?'" Dundas says of the nursing rooms. "But it makes a huge
What's next for working mother benefits? Fathers will start playing
a larger role in the mix. Elder care is becoming a big issue, Lapinski
says, as are benefits aimed at teenagers and almost-teens.
And benefits for adoptive parents will continue to grow. Already,
Microsoft, a Working Mother newcomer last year, offers $5,000
in adoption assistance to its employees. And Bank of America, which
has appeared on the list for 15 years, offers up to $4,000 per child
in adoption reimbursements among its myriad benefits.
What you won't see in the future is any scaling back. The mom-friendly
benefits companies offer are now part of their corporate fabric.
Working mothers expect them … and companies are reaping the benefits.
"We've been very surprised to see that even with the economy rocking
and rolling a bit, we haven't seen a cutback in benefits," Lapinski
says. "This is just a good, sensible business practice."
Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC.
She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today,
USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and
The Palm Beach Post.