Companies Regear for Two-Career Families

Child care, flexible hours, and unpaid leave all ease family and work conflicts

CAREER-MINDED American women once viewed work as an alternative to child-rearing. But many who go on to start a family keep working whether they want to or not because the added expense leaves them no choice.

"Nowadays women don't choose to work for fun," says Kim Tyson, a business reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. "It's economic necessity. If you're lucky you can choose a career that's fun, but also pays the bills."

Ms. Tyson entered journalism as a motivated achiever. An honors graduate with a taste for hard news, she attracted national attention as the first woman editor of the student newspaper at Texas A&M University. The Texas Daily Newspaper Association named her intern of the year.

Today, after 13 years at the Statesman, Tyson says that providing for her two daughters, ages 2 1/2 and four months, is as important as self-fulfillment. While her husband builds an import business, she is not only the leading breadwinner but also the health-insurance provider for them all.

Indeed, says Judsen Culbreth, editor of Working Mother magazine and the parent of two children, the need for two incomes is so widely recognized by women and their husbands that the 15-year-old magazine will soon phase out a column called "The Guilt Department."

Women now feel entitled to be in the workplace, not apologetic. Three out of four working mothers would choose to be there even if they did not need the money, Working Mother found. Ms. Culbreth says the new mind-set is: "Work is good for me and it's good for my family."

Many companies, recognizing changing employment trends, are taking big steps and small to make it easier to work and raise a family. Johnson & Johnson has established itself as a leader in this effort. In 1987, the company took note that only 14 percent of families in the United States fit the traditional mold, and 60 percent of mothers with children under six were working while 40 years earlier only 12 percent worked.

In 1989 the maker of baby-care products added to the Credo, the company's guiding statement of ethics that was penned in 1943 by Chairman Robert Johnson Jr. "We shall be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family responsibilities," it now says.

Following a survey of 10,000 employees, a variety of programs called Balancing Work and Family were introduced. "Child care was paramount," says spokesman Jeff Leebaw. The company spent $5 million to build what Human Resource Executive magazine called "the Taj Mahal of corporate day care" at its New Jersey headquarters.

Johnson & Johnson now helps to find schools for the children and jobs for the spouses of workers that the company transfers. A Dependent Care Reimbursement Account allows employees to pay for child and elder care with pretax dollars. Employees can take up to a year of unpaid leave to care for family members and then return to the same or a comparable job. The company pays up to $3,000 of the cost of adopting a child.

Apple Computer Inc. offers employees flexible hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. "As long as you put in your eight hours, nobody has a problem," spokeswoman Yolanda Davis says. The flexible hours are especially appreciated by the female employees, she says. Apple's work force is 44 percent female. Of those, a third are managers. Six percent are vice presidents.

At a company day-care center a few blocks away from Apple's headquarters, children up to age six use a computer lab and are taught a curriculum including mathematics.

The company pays a $500 "baby bonus" to employees with a newborn or newly adopted child and $3,200 for adoption assistance. On-site fitness centers are available any time of day.

Apple also offers employees a six-week sabbatical for every five years worked. Ms. Davis combined her sabbatical with a vacation to take 13 weeks off with pay.

For these kinds of benefits, companies are repaid by loyalty. "I love Chevron," says Jan Golon, who works in public relations in the oil company's New York office.

During her job interview process in 1985, Ms. Golon discovered that she was pregnant with her first child. "I thought, oh my gosh, maybe they won't want to hire me now. But they didn't hesitate for a moment," she says.

Two years ago the company was "very, very supportive" during Golon's bitter divorce. Now on her own, she handles work, two children, and a 90-minute commute each way.

"My company is willing to allow me to do the things that I need to do to be a good parent as long as I don't abuse it," Golon says. "I schedule business trips when the children are with their father. I recently took a vacation day to attend my daughter's first-grade graduation."

"My professional career suffered a bit during the divorce," she adds, "but now it's as much on track as it was the day I joined Chevron."

The Statesman agreed to an unusual part-time work arrangement for Tyson when each of her children was born. After her eight weeks of maternity leave and two weeks of unused sick leave, she returned to work for three days a week and used holidays and vacation to take the other days off with pay.

Some companies still do little, however. A woman banker at a southern bank has postponed having children while establishing her career. The company is not particularly encouraging in either respect.

"There are not very many women executives" at the bank, she says. "Upper, upper management is exclusively male."

The bank does not guarantee women the same job after they return from maternity leave. The bank surveyed employees for interest in setting up a child-care center nearby. "I haven't heard anything since that survey went around," the banker says.

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