The 2017 Working Mother WorkBeyond Summit: Some Takeaways

Last week I attended the annual conference celebrating companies listed on Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies list. Rebranded as the WorkBeyond Summit, the event once again showcased an assortment of interesting research and best practices. Here are a few of my takeaways:

Even as Paid Parental Leave Remains Elusive, Some Policies Embrace Everything From Dads To Service Animals

  • Only 13% of U.S employees get paid parental leave of any kind, and that number drops to 6% for low-income employees, says Annie Sartor, a Program Director at PL+US. Meanwhile, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, just 24% of U.S. companies offer paid paternity leave.
  • This despite the fact that, according to research by the Boston College Center for Work & Family (BCCWF), men experience as much, if not more, work-life conflict as women. Nearly 2/3 of them aspire to be equal caregivers at home, and 74% of new dads want to spend more time with their kids (1% want to spend less)! 60% believe paternity leave is very or extremely important, while another 29% think it is just plain old important.
  • Sadly, there is a self-perpetuating cycle to the gender boundaries that keep some men deeply conflicted. According to the BCCWF study, men still define themselves (and are defined) as the family breadwinners, and in many cases they still make more money than their spouse, so it is both psychologically and financially harder for them to disengage from work. But this and other studies find that men who don’t take sufficient time off when their children are born become less competent, or at least less confident, caregivers—thus cementing their reputation (and often, actual role) as “secondary” caregivers.
  • One fellow conference goer—an HR lead from a prominent management consulting firm—mentioned how complicated it can be even for HR staff to parse all the different paid leave policies some companies are starting to offer—some more formally than others: maternity, paternity, adoption, surrogacy, etc. Harmonizing these into one official parental leave plan not only ensures everyone understands what’s due to them, it removes the burden of discretionary decision-making from HR.
  • In fact, according to Working Mother, many companies applying to the list have done just this, simplifying several kinds of leave into a single “parental leave.” A few have hopped on the wave of a more cutting-edge trend, offering “family” or “caregiving” leave for people to care for family members beyond just newly arriving children. This sort of leave acknowledges that, per my last column, caregiving is not always about kids. EY (formerly Ernst & Young)’s new family care policy provides 10 paid days off per year to care for a family member, defining family in the broadest way possible to include not only individuals related by blood and adoption and step relations but those who have an equivalently close relationship—including service animals!

To Engage Employees, Encourage Them to Bring Their Whole Selves to Work

  • Vanessa Weaver, the CEO of Alignment Strategies who led a fascinating session on “covering” at this same conference a few years ago , talked about the essential role employee engagement—not just satisfaction—plays in business success. This engagement can’t possibly occur without employees being recognized and supported as whole people, she said. Diversity & Inclusion efforts should be part of any engagement strategy; D&I programs that are untethered from strategy can lead to whirlwinds of pointless activity.
  • Renetta McCann, Chief Talent Officer from Leo Burnett, spoke eloquently about how, thanks to social media, today’s employees have new relationships with brands, wielding more power as consumers than ever before. They expect that same kind of interaction and input at work. McCann, who underscored her depiction of employees as whole people by referring to them as “humans” throughout her presentation (e.g., “the humans who work for us expect…”) pointed out that most employees don’t think, “this is my job.” They think, “this is my life”: the two are inseparably intertwined.
  • A co-presenter of McCann’s commented that, because of this ever-greater blending of “work” and “life,” transparency at work today includes providing the opportunity for employees to respond to outside world events. Social media has created a culture in which employees expect this, and it is certainly one way to let in the whole employee.  As I mentioned in a post earlier this year, PwC  did this by holding unstructured discussions about race following the 2016 shootings in Dallas; Leo Burnett held similar conversations after this past summer’s events in Charlottesville.
  • Keynoter Christian Busch, a researcher from the London School of Economics, called out the larger role expected of today’s employees when he suggested companies should think of themselves as investors, whose job it is to invest in employees’ ideas. This also means being open to failure: companies that take the stigma out of failing build trust, promote learning, and accelerate serendipity.

Everyone’s Talkin’ About Generations

  • As has become common at these sorts of events, millennials were a major source of discussion, but I enjoyed EY’s alternative name for them: “Generation Go.” As in, if we don’t keep up with their needs, they’ll go elsewhere.
  • Important as it is to engage millennials, however, productivity actually increases with age, says Susan K. Weinstock, a VP at AARP. Not only that, but age is a vital element of diversity: age-diverse teams are more productive and creative.
  • Interestingly, older workers are also at a critical juncture in the caregiving spectrum. Elder care issues often hit employees at around retirement age. Suddenly, they may find they can’t afford to retire as soon as they’d planned; at the same time, as a newly-minted caregiver, they may suddenly need more flexibility in their work schedules. (This is an argument for phased retirement, or, as the new campaign by flexibility expert Paul Rupert calls it, Respectful Exits.)

As always, another thing I learned once more at this year’s summit was how far and away superior the programs, policies, and practices of Working Mother 100 Best companies are to those of the vast majority of U.S. employers. In my next post, I’ll provide some data to demonstrate just how they stack up.

This year, all the Working Mother “Best Company” lists are combined into one new application, coming out soon. Need some help? Drop me a line or call: 718-628-4753.

Leave a Comment


APEX-2016-Winner 2015-Winner2014_winner-Apex-logo20132012