Sep 15, 2011 • By

What working mothers want

Today General Mills was named to Working Mother magazine’s list of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers for the 16th consecutive year.

I reached out to Jennifer Owens, director of the Working Mother Research Institute, to dig deeper into the results and get her expert opinion on what truly drives satisfaction for today’s working moms.

In the following Q&A, Owens shares her perspective on how and why companies have evolved their workplaces over the years to better support working moms and, as a result, have created happier, more productive workplaces.

What are the major differences in what it means to be a “Best Workplace” for working mothers today verses when you started doing the list 25 years ago?

Owens: I think one of the most noticeable changes is the depth and breadth of family-friendly benefits now offered by the Working Mother 100 Best Companies — and how it continues to evolve. Take childcare. Twenty-five years ago, the gold-standard was on-site childcare and while this is still important, the Best Companies now also offer everything from summer holiday care and before/after school care to back up care and sick child care as well.

Name the top three things that companies on the Working Mother 100 Best Companies list are doing that other companies may be missing.

Owens: You might think I’d say something like concierge services (which are really popular across the Best Companies), but really, the basics still rule:

Flexibility. Every Best Companies offers flextime and telecommuting, while only 53 percent and 45 percent of the nation’s employers do, respectively.

Paid Parental Leave. Every Best Company offers paid maternity leave, and most offer paid paternity and adoptive leave as well. Nationwide, I’m sad to say that the rate of employers offering paid maternity leave still hovers at only 16 percent.

Employee Resource Groups. The Best Companies see the power and advantage of these networking groups. From offering support to encouraging engagement to even creating new business opportunities, ERGs are a real advantage for Best Companies.

Why is it advantageous for companies to strive to be a great workplace for moms? Why does it matter?

Owens: It matters because working moms are always the vanguard for other employee groups. Yes, our name is Working Mother, but our not-so secret is that the benefits that working mothers fight for and need serve all employees — employees who have eldercare concerns, employees who have disabilities, employees who just need flexibility for any reason.

Every study on flexibility and other “family friendly” benefits finds that when you give employees the power to control how and when they work, you’ll get more productive, engaged, and even healthier employees in return.

Has the challenging economic environment had an impact on how the companies on this list treat their employees? Any big changes?

Owens: In the micro sense, I think some programs (like the concierge programs!) have declined a bit, but overall, we haven’t seen any retreats in, say, flexibility.

Flexibility is a cheap and powerful benefit that actually encourages productivity and the Best Companies don’t see it as a nice-to-have benefit.

Flexibility and the other programs that support working mothers at the Best Companies tend to be hard-wired into the company culture and are, thus, less likely to fade, even in tough times. That said, a national survey did find that the percentage of companies offering flexibility shrunk during the recession, although last year it rose to nearly 53 percent — just one point shy of where it was prior to the recession.

What do you see as the number one driver of job satisfaction for working mothers?

Owens: We actually just surveyed 3,700 moms for our upcoming What Moms Choose report and I’ll give you a sneak peek into our findings, which are due out next month. Working moms told us that a prime factor for engagement is confidence in their company’s leadership. Working mothers want to hear from their company’s leadership regarding their commitment to working moms and dads — and they want to see those words in action. You have that and you’ll have satisfied working moms.

Editor’s note: Read the news release for more information on General Mills’ inclusion in the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers and visit Working Mother magazine for the complete list.