Redefining the Mommy Track
Some corporations offer flexible mommy benefits
By: Shirley Henderson
Working mothers reposition themselves to maintain their professional clout and business edge Lisa Morrison-Butler, a mother of two, has a clear memory of being a player in the corporate world for 20 years. While working as a marketing executive at Ameritech, she recalls leaving her office early one day to attend an event for her preschool-age daughter. The moment Morrison-Butler walked into her child’s classroom her cell phone went off.
It was her job calling.
“I remember going outside to take the call,” recalls Morrison- Buder. “I turned around and there was my daughter, Dawn, standing in the window looking at me with this expression on her face that I will never forget, as if to say, ‘You’re already late. What is it that can’t wait?'”
At that precise moment, Morrison-Butler stood face to face with one of the many challenges of managing career and family.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 51 percent of women with children are a part of the work force. Missing a child’s school play may just be a dilemma that comes with playing on the corporate field. However, as working mothers realize their value in the workplace, many are getting fed up with jobs that don’t accommodate their decision to be mothers. Simply put, many working mothers are repositioning themselves and how they operate in the workplace.
“I was so defined by the work that I did then,” recounts Morrison- Butler, who is now the executive director for a non-profit organization in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two daughters, Dawn, 15, and Erin, 12. “I had the corner office; people answered to me. As far as I was concerned, the seas parted when I walked into the room.”
While the workplace culture at her current job is more family- friendly, there was a time when she felt the need to hide her second pregnancy from a previous employer that expected her to work long hours. “If you wanted to be promoted, if you wanted a sizable bonus, you had to be perceived as a player, she says, noting that as a member of the executive staff at one job, she was expected to be in the office by 7 a.m. and stay until 7:30 p.m. “I didn’t want to hear any questions [from my employer] about whether or not I was committed, or if I was coming back [from maternity leave] to work.”
Most working moms will agree that it is a delicate balancing act to manage career and family effectively. In order to help employees achieve a work-family balance, some top corporations are offering incentives to support working mothers.
One such company is Aflac, an insurance giant headquartered in Columbus, Ga. The duck popularized in Aflac’s television commercials may actually have something to quack about, particularly if there are ducklings at home to feed.
Women make up 70 percent of Aflac’s entire work force. At least 65 percent of Aflac’s female employees have dependent children; nearly 40 percent are African-American women. To address the needs of its employees, in 1991 Aflac began offering on-site child care with hours of operation from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. to accommodate varying work schedules. The company also offers personal- and professional-development classes for working mothers who desire to take advantage of the service.
“I’m proud that Aflac is one of the companies that really gets the connection between employees that have a balanced personal life and how that translates to the business’s bottom line,” says Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president, corporate services for Aflac, who is a wife and mother of three children: Wesley, 9, Robbie, 7, and Barbara Joy, 4. “Everybody doesn’t get that.”
Tillman, who joined the company in 1996, had all three of her children while rising to the corporate ranks at Aflac. “I know what it takes to be a mom or to have to be over at the school,” says Tillman. “Or to have to manage how I am going to get to the baseball game and finish my conference call.”
As women claim higher-ranking positions, they are able to demand- and get-better quality-of-life work benefits. Even though in 2000, the number of working women with infants under the age of 1 decreased to 51.5 percent, compared to 53.7 percent in 1999, women were still in demand in corporate America. Consequently, some Fortune 500 companies, such as JPMorgan Chase and Abbott, have long offered family-friendly programs to their employees.
Company incentives for working parents may include employee access to work from home several days a week, private lactation rooms for nursing mothers, access to take-home meals or additional weeks off during maternity leave beyond the federally legislated 12 weeks, according to Working Mother magazine, which publishes its yearly best 100 companies for working mothers.
However, even when a company does offer these (and other) incentives, not everyone within the organization is on the same page.
Chekenia Patrick, a divorced mother of a 2-year-old, works as an executive administrative assistant for a company on the East Coast. Her company offers flextime and “summer hours” that allow for a half workday on Friday or the option to work more hours and take Friday off.
Patrick, who arrives at work at 8:30 a.m., says that some cannot understand her need to leave at 4:30 p.m. to pick her daughter up from the babysitter. In addition, she sometimes feels pressured to work late.
For mothers with small children or children with special needs, it can be extremely difficult to operate in the traditional work arena.
A former copy editor for Time Inc., MaryAnne Howland is fortunate that she doesn’t have to. Howland was already an entrepreneur when she gave birth to her son, lohn Robert, now 13. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 18 months.
As CEO of IBIS Communications, she runs a full-service ad agency in Nashville with a staff of eight people and an impressive client roster that includes Cola-Cola, Pitney Bowes and Toyota. Being her own boss gives Howland the flexibility to help her son participate in an underwater treadmill study to measure the improvement in his gait. She drove 100 miles round trip three times a week after picking him up from school.
Does she feel that she could be as effective as a CEO and mom if she were not the boss?
“No,” she answers quickly. “As a matter of fact, I had made the decision early on. One of my incentives for having my own business is that I wanted to be able to spend as much time with my children as I wanted to and be in control of that. I was very successful in corporate America. If I had stayed, I am sure I would have been somebody’s senior vice president or higher. I jumped off that road because I knew that, first of all, I’m a workaholic, and I knew for the same amount of hours I invested in my own business, I’d get my money back.
“Also, with a drop of a dime, if I need to go and talk with doctors and specialists about John Robert, I can get up and go do it.”
Entrepreneur Mary Anne Howland, son John Robert and Coda (center) take time out to play Wii at home.
In addition to being a mother, MaryAnne Howland is also the CEO of her own advertising agency, IBIS Communications in Nashville, Tenn. Her position allows her to better balance work and career. Inside her office (above), she chats with Sharon Williams.
“I was so defined by the work that I did then.. I had the corner office; people answered to me. As far as I was concerned, the seas parted when I walked into the room.”
Lisa Morrison-Butler, mother of two, and is a former marketing executive
Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president for corporate services at Aflac and the mother of three children (Wesley, 9, Robbie, 7, and Barbara Joy, 4), takes her children to school each morning before heading to the office.
Flexing your mommy power:
- options that companies are offering to employees
- Access to job sharing with another individual
- Compressed work weeks
- On-site day care and/or after-school care for children
- Paid time off for dads
- On-site gym or fitness center
- Fully paid time off for adoptive parents
- Parenting courses that are held at the job site
Teresa L. White, the mother of two, is senior vice president, deputy chief administrator for Aflac, one of the top companies for women with families. The women she interviews for positions “want to know about family-friendly programs, company philanthropy and paid time off. Especially women with families,” she says.