Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).
On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Carol Evans, President of Working Mother Media about their just-released 2014 list of 100 Best Places to Work.
The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.
Stew Friedman:Working Mother just released list of Best Companies for 2014. What makes a company a great Working Mother pick?
Carol Evans: We ask 500 questions, and we get very detailed.
SF: Who has time to complete a survey like that?
CE: Companies who care about working families including parental leave for both working parents, corporate culture, leadership, having women in middle level positions and top level positions, mentorship, support, and more.
SF: This is now a coveted position for corporations to be on this list. It helps them compete in the labor market.
CE: It’s a big differentiator. Women look to the list for where to work. Men now want to know, too.
SF: So how can a corporation get to the top 10?
CE: Parental leave, childcare, excellence across the board on many, but not all, factors. A lot of these companies have been on the list for a long time.
SF: So the list covers all dimensions of work and life issues. Will having good programs that support life beyond work get you on the list?
CE: If you have programs, but women aren’t advancing, then no, you will not accumulate the points you’d need to be on the list. It’s not subjective. We want to know how many people have access to each policy and then how many actually use them. And what about the culture; do people feel afraid to use programs designed to retain them?
SF: Policy and practice only go so far. So cultural mores determine if they’re really being accessed.
CE: Companies have to market it to their employees. If people don’t use it, it becomes the norm not to use it.
SF: How do you ensure the data is valid and accurate?
CE: We fact check data. And we put in magazine. That’s the best check and balance. If it’s not accurate your employees will call you on it. The companies don’t know what we’ll put in the magazine.
SF: Have you ever had situation where the company said one thing and employees said it wasn’t so?
CE: Yes, before but not now. We had a typo. We wrote a 16 week not a 6 week leave policy. Oh my gosh, we heard from everyone in the company!
SF: So, what happened? Did it create pressure to increase the leave?
CE: Yes, they increased it!
SF: How does the list influence policy – apart from typos?
CE: We launched in 1986 and we’ve seen tremendous change because of the list. First, the companies themselves benefit via the application process itself. The people writing the answers to our survey get to know what their organization even has to offer and how much it’s used – flex, childcare, going to the gym, mentoring program, ERG (employee resource group). Second, after publication they learn that they have 8 weeks of maternity leave, but their competitor has 12 weeks. And they have to ask, as their employees do, why don’t we have that? And then if all the top ten have X, let’s get up to that so we can be competitive. Relative to your competition or to the best. Knowledge is like gold; it’s a competitive advantage. It’s a great carrot. You give us your data. And we show aggregates. Finally, for the talent, that is for individual women, they find out from reading the magazine once a year what’s the latest and greatest in work/life. They learn ideas of what to ask for and this helps them to be brave enough to take advantage of the benefits.
SF: So it’s the knowledge that’s empowering. In 30 years – what’s changed? What’s the big idea, the big shift? Has there been real progress?
CE: The pregnancy act was in 1978. That made it illegal to fire someone for being pregnant. Before 1978 it was perfectly acceptable to do so. When we started the list only 30 companies were doing something. Now the offerings are much more sophisticated and culturally embedded, and they’re demanded by moms and dads and by millennials.
SF: Is technology a catalyst for some of the change you’re seeing especially for millennials?
CE: It’s a double-edged sword. Some companies are experimenting with new policies about not having the digital line crossed. For instance, Deloitte has digital free weekends to renew and refresh. On the list we uncover new things that companies are doing. We codify the new stuff, put it in magazine, discuss it at the Work/Life Conference, tweet about it. Then next year we ask everyone else if theyr’e doing it.
SF: The list is a catalyst for change not a catalog of policies.
CE: Yes, so now we ask, Are you sponsoring, not mentoring? Do you have paid paternity leave.
SF: Working Mother is the name, so what about dads? Other demographics benefit from work/life practices. How has it spread and how does the list address these changes?
CE: Millennials demand it and that helps to get it across to CEOs. Women are like the icebreaker and behind you all the other boats get through. Women get these benefits, and then everybody benefits.
Carol Evans, is President of Working Mother Media, CEO of the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) Diversity Best Practices (DBP), and author of This is How We Do It: The Working Mother’s Manifesto. For more information check out www.workingmother.com and follow Carol at @CarolEvansWM