NH businesses help moms find work and family balance

Local companies are changing their policies to support working moms and keep them on the job

Diana Duggan was pregnant with her second child when her employer, Fidelity Investments, announced it would be expanding its paid maternity and parental leave policies.

Maternity leave was extended from 12 weeks to 16 weeks, while other parental leave was extended from two weeks to six weeks.

The policy change made it much easier for Duggan to return to work after giving birth.

“By the time my maternity [leave] was up, I was much more confident coming back to work,” said Duggan, whose husband, Mark, also works at Fidelity in Merrimack and was able to take advantage of the longer parental leave option.

“It seemed the second time on maternity leave was much more enjoyable. It wasn’t just me running around and doing everything – my husband was there as well,” said Duggan. “Having him home that extra time, we were able to get in a very good routine, especially having two at home now.”

When Duggan did return to work, Fidelity also allowed her to shift her schedule earlier, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It allows me to [experience] a lot of the day, coming in earlier, but I also get to leave early and spend time with my family. My girls are so young, they go to bed early, so now I don’t feel like I’m rushing around to put them to bed,” said Duggan.

Flexible hours also allow Duggan and her husband to balance work and family.

“He takes care of drop-off in the morning so I can come into the office, and if he needs to stay later, I already have it planned that I’m leaving early to get the girls,” she said. “It works for our family and both of our careers.”

Returning on her terms

“There’s no one more loyal than a mom who went through pregnancy with you and returned on her terms,” said Zachary Gregg, founder and managing partner of marketing agency Vital Design in Portsmouth.

Over the past few years, Vital has more than doubled its workforce, mainly through hiring millennials.

Courtesy photo

Vital Design employees had fun guessing whether Amanda Gamester, Vital Design's director of
Creative Services, was going to have a boy or a girl. Turns out she had a boy, Remy.

“We know that comes with the territory, whether a man or a woman, if you hire somebody in their mid-20s to mid-30s, they’re going to [have a baby],” said Gregg.

Usually pregnant workers will visit Gregg’s office to share the news.

“In some ways, they’re nervous to tell us because they don’t know what the reaction will be,” said Gregg.

“It starts with a conversation. ‘We’re super excited for you and no matter what you tell me, whether it’s “I’m definitely coming back to work; I want to work the rest of my life” or “I don’t know if I’m coming back to work,” I don’t expect you to know now,’” Gregg will say to expectant mothers.

Gregg tells them to keep their plans fluid and open-ended, so as to not put pressure on new mothers to stick to strict schedules.

“I think the first thing is not creating hard-and-fast expectations that they have to be here during a certain period of time, letting them know they may need to make changes to their schedule,” said Gregg. “We tell them, ‘don’t come back until you’re ready to come back and don’t create a schedule where you’re afraid of letting us down’.”

This flexibility also helps parents balance work and family.

Especially as children get older and involved in sports, both parents will take off time to assist with coaching.

If a worker wants to regularly pick up their children from child care at 3 p.m. and not make up the hours in the evening, they have the option of recalculating their salary to match the amount of time they want to work.

A $70,000 salary at 40 hours per week becomes a $50,000 salary for 28 hours a week.

“As long as that expectation is clear and everyone’s OK with it, it’s completely freeing for the employee to realize ‘Wow, I can do both,’” said Gregg.

Generally, though, Vital employees have worked for the company a few years and developed a trustworthy relationship that allows them to manage their flexible schedules.

“Quite honestly, our best employees are moms. Moms and dads are efficient with their time. They tend to get more done in their day than others would, and they tend to understand their schedule very well,” said Gregg. “It follows our culture of being transparent and authentic. We’re going to be supportive, what we get out of that is committed employees that want to work here.”

Model employers

Katie Schwerin, chief operating officer of organic personal care manufacturer W.S. Badger Company in Gilsum, has been at the center of some progressive family-friendly policies.

When an employee asked if she could bring her baby to work, Schwerin did some research and discovered the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, a Utah-based nonprofit whose founder helped Badger create a Babies-at-Work program.

Over 15 babies, ages three to six months, have participated in the program. (Badger offers three months of paid maternity leave.)

“I think, in general, children and families need support,” said Schwerin. “We want to help businesses connect the dots and understand that the future depends on the upbringing of our children, and that children need more time with their parents.”

The policy has also helped Badger with employee retention.

“The benefit to the company is huge. The parents are forever grateful. And almost across the board people are happier when babies are around, so it helps the other employees as well. It’s a warm experience,” she said.

Badger also built a child care center just down the road that accepts children ages six months to three years old.

These types of policies are what led Schwerin to serve for some time as the co-chair of Impact Monadnock Business Ambassadors, the business arm of the Monadnock United Way’s initiative dedicated to supporting the region’s young children and families. This effort runs in tandem with Healthy Monadnock 2020, an initiative founded and developed by the Cheshire Medical Center / Dartmouth Hitchcock-and guided by the Council for a Healthier Community, a group of over 30 individuals representing businesses, schools, organizations and coalitions.

“We really want to be a model company,” said Schwerin. “We’ve been working to make companies in the region more family friendly.”

Currently serving as the co-chair of the Business Ambassadors, Peter Hansel, president of Filtrine Manufacturing Company in Keene, has established new family-friendly policies at his company. They include restructuring paid time off to make it more available to new hires, extending its parental leave to four weeks and adopting a Babies-at-Work policy, though no babies have been born since the change.

“I’m going to step forward in things that make sense for our company as well as setting an example for others in the region,” said Hansel.

Keene Housing, the City’s housing authority, has had one baby participate sporadically in its Babies-at-Work program.

“For the type of work a great many of our employees do, it’s not particularly disruptive and we think it’s one of the ways we can show appreciation for our staff,” said Josh Meehan, executive director of Keene Housing. “There’s not a huge pool of property managers that have experience with income restrictions; there’s a whole set of requirements around that. We hope our family friendly policies make us competitive.”

Bensonwood, a Walpole-based custom home builder, has seen a demographic shift in its workers, increasing female employees by 20 percent in recent years.

As a few workers were out on maternity leave, Human Resources Associate Ana Gonzalez put the final touches on a newly constructed, discreet room for mothers to privately pump breast milk.

“I remember when I had my daughter it was a very personal thing. There’s space for them to leave their equipment in the room so they’re not transporting it back and forth and attracting attention,” said Gonzalez. “You can look at it as a benefit, but at a certain point, it really just is the right thing to do.”

Bensonwood has also been flexible in easing mothers back to work.

“One of our staffers coming back from maternity leave wasn’t ready to come back full time so we staggered her reentry. As things progressed, she decided she didn’t want to work full time and wanted to work part time, so we just adjusted her schedule,” said Gonzalez. “We absolutely work with them as best we can to accommodate as much as possible.” 

Liisa Rajala is the associate editor at NH Business Review, a publication of McLean Communications. Parenting New Hampshire is also a McLean Communications publication. 

Categories: Planning for baby