The topic of working mothers has been all over the news lately. From Netflix's offer of up to a year's paid maternity leave, to KKR's policy of bringing nannies on work trips, to IBM's service for shipped breast milk -- it looks like big companies are fighting to outdo each other to keep working moms, well, working.
In this highly competitive job market, what can smaller companies do to develop policies and a culture that attracts and benefits employees?
Small companies have an advantage because they typically have a culture that is more personal and familial. It can be easier to implement policies that promote lifestyle values. Small companies, on the other hand, often lack the structure, knowledge and resources of larger companies and are more likely to struggle with lower profit margins and situations where each employee is essential to the daily business operations.
Below are five solutions for small businesses to develop a culture that benefits women:
Plan Ahead and Set Policies on Day One
Many small companies don't have maternity leave or similar policies in place until they need them. This often leads to confusion for management and employees. When policies are set early, they can lead to decisions that shape the organization as a whole.
Lactation rooms, which are required by law in some states, are a great example of this. When planning your office space, you can use your policies as a guide for space requirements.
How about a Bring Kids to Work policy? Many companies that don't offer back-up childcare may offer employees the option of bringing their child into work on a school holiday rather than working from home. Not only is this a great experience for a child but also helps foster a workplace community.
Be upfront with prospective and current hires. The transparency and planning goes a long way. There are tons of resources available online to help with this. And, ask other business leaders. Brainstorm creative ideas and best practices. Strive to create something beneficial and impactful for the whole company, and do your research so you can create and communicate a policy from Day One.
Develop a True Flex-Work Environment, and Stand Behind It
Today's workers are constantly tapped into work. Email, calls, texting, and cloud-based file storage all lead to a 24/7 work day.
It is important to have an open conversation about what routines and hours work best for your employees, managers, and the business as a whole. Is it okay for a parent to leave early to coach his daughter's soccer team as long as he is the first one in the office every day? Are you comfortable with an employee who takes a long lunch to go to the gym as long as she always gets her work done and typically puts in a few extra hours from home?
I've found that when employers give a little, they get a lot in return. I leave the office at a set time every evening but I'm always back online for an hour or two at night. This is a schedule that works for me and I'm happy to do it because my employer allows me to define a workday that fits well with my life.
Encourage A Slower Transition Back From Parental Leave
Many small companies, even those that understand the value of extended leave, have a difficult time managing the expenses associated with maternity leave.
There is a middle road, however, that can work for both employee and employer. For two of my three children I was able to ease my way back into the office post maternity leave. Adapting to a new morning and evening schedule with a child is difficult. The flexibility to return to work slowly -- either working part-time at first or, working from home a few days a week for the first few months back -- helps relieve a lot of the burden. Helping employees ease back into work leads to less stress, less angst and greater satisfaction for all.
Men Need Attention Too
Men play an important role in the home as well. My husband and I share 100 percent of parenting and housework. Pick-up, drop-off, packing lunches, bedtime, baths and sick days -- you name it. As a father he needs the same flexibility that I'm afforded. Since he is able to share in the parenting, we are both happier, less stressed and more productive at work.
The same goes for paternity leave. Maternity leave is a crucial time to bond with your child. This is so important for both parents. Companies, regardless of the size, should offer this option to all employees.
Approach the Employee/Employer Relationship as a Partnership
In small companies teamwork is important. A workforce that is passionate about the business, engaged in its success, and willing to give 110 percent is a goldmine. Don't underestimate the power of transparency, respect, and open-mindedness. Be open to employee ideas around drivers for increased satisfaction and mutually work on solutions.
Kristy Wallace is the President at Ellevate Network, where she is responsible for business operations, product development and strategic partnerships. With an entrepreneurial mindset and an aptitude for building businesses from the ground up, Kristy is backed by more than 15 years of experience in generating thriving revenue centers, including corporate strategy, product development, revenue forecasting, hiring, training, marketing, pipeline development and contract closings.