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It's a question that plagues employees--and especially women--across the workforce: How can I better balance my work life with my personal time? Many companies have no formal policies that tackle the issue head-on. Instead, employees often have to forge their own policies, working with human resources departments to strike a balance for all parties. Here are some ideas for companies looking to provide a place where workers, and employers, can find peace of mind.
1 Create a comfortable culture. Take ViewSonic, for example. Like many other companies, ViewSonic does not have a formal written policy that addresses issues women face in the workplace, but it does pride itself on helping craft individual solutions to individual employee challenges. "We have a policy of flexibility that is unique to the individual's personal situation and to the department they are in," said Vera Torres, ViewSonic's director of human resources. The company is small enough that Torres gets to know each employee's circumstance and can work with that person to accommodate specific needs.
2 Be flexible. As Torres notes, the crux of the issue is having a flexible policy. For some workers, that might mean the ability to work from home. But for others who must be in a factory, for example, companies can offer flex time or shift changes to accommodate any situation.
At Technodyne, President and CFO Padma Allen and her husband started the company with an infant and a toddler in tow, so she is well aware of the juggling act many mothers in the workplace face. "We tell our employees, 'Do what you have to do at home, and then come and do your work,'" she said, recognizing that productivity is compromised when employees are preoccupied with personal concerns, such as child care. Allen herself brought her kids into the office when they were very young--and they have grown up there ever since.
3 Offer day care. Parents are distracted with not only finding suitable care for their children, but they can be preoccupied with the details that go along with that duty ("Will the sitter show up on time?" "What happens when the sitter is sick?") Providing on-site child care can greatly ease those worries for employees.
SAS offers subsidized, on-site child-care centers in Cary, N.C., for children of full-time employees with at least one year of service and subsidized child care in regional offices. The company sponsors two Montessori child care facilities, affiliated with the American Montessori Society, and offers child care through Bright Horizons Children's Center. Eligibility is based on seniority, age of the child and available space. CA Technologies, Islandia, N.Y., also has state-of-the-art, Montessori-based child care; there is a curriculum, and teachers are specially trained and certified.
4 Build a task force to look at potential sources of conflict. In 1995, IBM started a number of task forces aimed at various employee constituencies, including its Women's Task Force. In Europe, the Middle East and Asia, IBM Women's Councils determined that women's advancement was not first and foremost to their male colleagues. To address that, they created Mindset Workshops given throughout Europe and now being replicated at IBM Research. The seminar, which includes men and women, examines attitudes toward women's leadership. In the U.S., the Women's Executive Task Force leverages IBM technology to provide Web presentations worldwide to educate and empower women on topics such as mentoring, negotiating and work/life balancing.
The payoff for IBM includes positive publicity: IBM routinely makes Working Mother magazine's lists of best places for mothers to work, and the National Association of Female Executives named it a 2010 Top 50 company.
5 Include nontraditional families in family care policy. AT&T, for example, in February adopted a new policy that grants all couples, including homosexuals and lesbians, absence under the Family Medical Leave Act.
6 Foster a Women's Alliance. Create an intranet site where female employees can reach out for advice, find support and form relationships. A mentoring--or "knowledge transfer"-- program can be part of this; be mindful, though, that many women have male mentors who may resist "having" to choose a female mentor. Xerox Women's Alliance provides a centralized place for women to go online and find resources as well as local chapter information and ways to become involved in the community. Xerox itself has an impressive history of female leadership in recent years: For instance, CEO Anne Mulcahy (2001-2009) turned the reins over to Ursula Burns one year ago.
7 Identify and sponsor bright stars. Sometimes, employees have a certain spark, but they lack the experience to move them up the corporate ladder. Companies that nurture these talents are growing their future leaders. Cisco, for example, has its Inclusive Advocacy program for high-potential employees. Enrollees (men and women) in the program are partnered with senior executives from other business units and global regions for a full year of coaching and professional opportunities. Cisco's related Executive Talent Insertion program is designed to attract a wide slate of experienced candidates to top jobs in engineering, finance, sales and operations, with a focus on female and minority professionals.