Research (and any sane business leader you ask) underscores the importance of high employee retention as a key factor in driving a company’s success. While the idea that we should hold on to our top talent seems like a no-brainer, many companies are losing a vital chunk of their workforce by failing to recognize the unique needs of new parents — particularly moms — with thoughtful policies and support. Worse, many employers often unconsciously create a culture with ingrained biases that not only fails to support but also subtly drives new mothers out.
The business case for keeping talented employees is an obvious one. The Center for American Progress estimates that the cost of hiring a replacement ranges up to 200 percent of the departing employee’s salary. Recruiting, hiring, and onboarding costs coupled with the loss of unrealized potential from talented departing team members adds up significantly to make a huge dent in businesses’ bottom lines.
While women’s overall participation in the workplace has grown, a significant percentage don’t return to work after the birth of a child. For many, the decision is an intentional, sometimes financial, choice and not influenced by workplace policies. However, the mothers who choose to return often face unexpected hurdles. As a result, many leave the workforce or cut back their hours. A recent study found that of the mothers who return, only 40 percent come back to full-time jobs.
In addition to obvious culprits like inadequate maternity and paternity leave, some employer actions nudging mothers to the exit door are more subtle. New moms may feel judged when they need to schedule meetings around daycare hours, or they may pick up on a manager’s frustration when they need to care for a sick child. Their managers may skip over discussing future goals or opportunities for growth at their annual review. Physical space can speak volumes, as an office without a comfortable place to pump may signal that an employer isn’t considerate of a new mother’s needs. An employer’s unwillingness to consider flexible work options can also send a negative message to new moms transitioning back at the end of parental leave.
At Curriculum Associates, an education technology company serving over 8 million students, we have doubled-down on our efforts to support working parents. We’ve done this not only because it makes fiscal sense and feels “right,” but also because we believe supporting parents is key to realizing our broader mission of “making classrooms better places” and improving outcomes for students.
Like others in the Conscious Company community, I believe companies like ours have tremendous potential to improve lives and inspire other businesses to hold themselves to a higher standard. For us, adopting a more conscious business mindset means considering our stakeholders at every level. While we start with our employees, we also think about the impact improved workplace policies will have on their families, as well as on the students we serve.
Given the majority of our students live in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, often in families headed by single mothers, we feel our responsibility to champion more supportive workplace policies deeply. In considering the next generation of learners and future workers, we think about the example their working mothers set and the importance of ensuring kids have positive role models in careers that support and inspire them.
All of our policies and benefits are examined through the lens of our mission, and this translates to ensuring we are serving students by supporting and advancing working mothers. In addition to offering paid maternity and paternity leave, generous vacation, and a fully paid health plan deductible, other offerings (many of which cost nothing) to support parents include:
- flexible hours and work-from-home options
- childcare options at subsidized rates, including an emergency option when regular childcare falls through
- flexible spending accounts to pay a portion of childcare expenses with tax-free dollars
- a Crisis Fund that provides no-strings-attached aid for employees in the event of a personal emergency
- private “Mothers Rooms” which can be booked in advance to provide discrete, comfortable spaces for pumping and storage
- support during the workplace re-entry period, including continued learning opportunities and keeping returning employees on track for career advancement and promotions
- something as simple as an internal #NewParents Slack channel helps employees share knowledge, build community and get support
As a result of our concerted focus on supporting and advancing the careers of new moms, Curriculum Associates has seen over 96 percent of its mothers return and stay with the company following maternity leave, with some being promoted soon upon return. Unsurprisingly, keeping these best-in-class employees has played a major role in our industry-leading growth over the past several years.
Regardless of your industry, all companies operate in service to someone or something, and the best way to serve your stakeholders is through employees that are passionate about what they do. A culture thoughtfully designed to support them breeds passion and dedication, boosting the quality of your service, products, and ultimately your bottom line.
By supporting new moms, you’re holding onto human capital that translates into a massive competitive advantage. Want your company to reach its full potential? Support your employees, especially new parents, by ensuring your policies walk the walk of your mission.
Rob Waldron joined Curriculum Associates as CEO in 2008, bringing leadership experience from both for-profit and nonprofit education worlds. He runs the company with a long-term focus, upholding the founding mission to improve classrooms everywhere. Under his leadership, revenues have increased more than seven-fold, making Curriculum Associates the nation’s fastest-growing K–12 education publishing company. Curriculum Associates now employs 1,000 staff and has earned “Top Place to Work” status from both the Boston Business Journal and The Boston Globe.