The Babies-at-Work Coalition

For too long, we’ve been told that we have no choice but to keep our family lives separate from our careers. The Parenting in the Workplace Institute (PIWI) and the Twiga Foundation are determined to prove that this is no longer true.

We are building a coalition to help thousands of companies to start programs in which employees can bring their babies to work every day and care for them while doing their jobs. Our goal is to launch a movement that will transform how our culture views the integration of career and family for all workers.

Who Are We?

For seven years, PIWI has worked with organizations who understand that allowing employees to bring their babies to work benefits families and the business’s bottom line.  The Twiga Foundation has spent the past decade working to promote family consciousness throughout society, particularly in the area of workplace flexibility.

PIWI has confirmed more than 180 baby-inclusive organizations in the United States who have hosted more than 2,100 babies to date.  These companies include law firms, consulting companies, credit unions, schools, manufacturing companies, and government agencies.  They comprise dozens of industries, in dozens of states, in organizations ranging from 3 to 3,000 employees.  More than 2,100 babies have successfully come to work in these organizations.

We have worked to provide resources to every parent and company who asked for our assistance over the years, and we have helped dozens of organizations to start successful baby programs.  Our work has been in dozens of media stories over the years, including pieces for Time, the New York Times, People, the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, USA Today, Inc., The Atlantic, and NPR.

The Current Situation:

It seems as though every day there’s a new example of how family-unfriendly our culture can be.

Women being denied jobs for which they are fully qualified, simply because they have children.

Women being fired for carrying a water bottle on the job or ostracized for asking for light duty work during their pregnancy.

A baseball player being criticized for taking three days of paternity leave to be with his wife and new baby.

A father whose employer tried to force him out of his job when he took legally-protected leave to care for his sick daughter.

A Cultural Shift:

Then we have the other side — nearly 200 companies for whom work/life balance means including babies and, in some cases, children of all ages, in the workplace community.

As a baby-inclusive bookstore owner described it, “The baby excitement starts when a woman is pregnant.  When the baby comes, everyone wants to crowd around.  Even though they’re not related [to the baby], it really became a sense of support and excitement.  They pretty much act like a family.  It seemed a natural extension of the phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’  Everyone signed on to that without ever discussing it.  Babies brought out the maternal and paternal instinct in everyone, including customers.”

 Our Solution:

Carolina and Abigayle at Alliance Credit Union

Carolina and her baby Abigayle at Alliance Credit Union

It’s become clear that some of the most effective advocates for baby programs are business executives who can attest to how transformative these programs have been for their organizations.  Once these programs are in place and the first baby has successfully come to work with their parent, objections quickly fade and coworkers find themselves bonding with these children and welcoming them into the workplace community.  They volunteer (while still getting their work done) to help care for and nurture the babies — creating a “village” of support for families that has become all too rare in our society.  Many of these organizations have actually gone on to implement other family-friendly policies after the baby program showed them firsthand that parents can successfully care for their children and work efficiently at the same time.

Therefore, as the first stage of this effort, we are building a coalition of baby-inclusive businesses who will serve as liaisons to other businesses.  They will provide their expertise to help other companies to better support pregnant employees and to implement parenting-at-work programs that enable both fathers and mothers to continue doing their jobs while simultaneously caring for their children.

At the same time, we will build a secure network to enable people to come together in teams to successfully propose parenting-at-work programs within their own organizations.  We will provide these teams with template policies, expert advice on how to frame their proposals, and help with locating supportive executives within their organizations to spearhead implementation.  We will help these teams to utilize strength in numbers while working with their employers as partners.  We will provide comprehensive, step-by-step procedures and support to overcome the most common obstacles to implementing these programs — lack of knowledge and lack of time.  We will be partnering with well-respected child development organizations to ensure that we are providing parents with accurate, useful information to help them to keep their children happy and get their work done at the same time.

We will solicit support and peer influencing from executives and managers in baby-inclusive companies who are passionate about the benefits of these programs and who will pledge to convince specific colleagues in other organizations to initiate a pilot babies-at-work program.

Christopher and Baby Jackson at Hawaii First Federal Credit Union

Christopher and Baby Jackson at Hawaii First Federal Credit Union

We will create a searchable map and features about child-inclusive companies so that we can show the growth of these companies around the U.S. and around the world.

We will provide access to a database of jobs in child-inclusive organizations.

We will partner with other organizations that are dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and making our economy more worker-friendly, so that we can connect with receptive businesses as quickly as possible.

We are eager to learn from other parents who have worked with their children — whether at home or in a corporate environment — so that we can provide a wide range of resources and ideas for parents to make these programs work.

Our coalition will celebrate organizations that use parenting-at-work programs to help their employees and their businesses to succeed, as a step toward a society that truly values families.

How You Can Help:

Become part of the Coalition by joining us on Facebook and sharing your pictures, videos, stories, and ideas about parenting at work there and on Twitter.  #BabiesAtWork

We are on the verge of creating a culture where children are valued and welcomed.  We can build a society in which parents can sustain their families with their children by their sides, while their coworkers form a community of love and support.  Join us.

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Just Another Day at the Office (With Babies)

Jess Piorier and her son Oscar at George Watts & Son

Jess Piorier
and her son Oscar
at George Watts & Son

For too long, our culture has dictated that there is no middle ground for parents—every one of the available choices is filled with difficulty and sacrifice.

  • If we have our children when we’re young, then we struggle to support them because we aren’t established in a sustainable career.
  • If we wait the decade or two it can take to earn a decent salary, getting pregnant has often become an obstacle course and it carries higher risks for our children’s health.
  • When our babies are born, if we take extended time off from work, we lose weeks or months of income. Even in countries with extended, paid maternity leave, mothers at home typically make much less than when they’re at their jobs, and women face hiring discrimination from businesses who don’t want an employee to be gone for months or a year at a time.
  • When we stay home with our babies, we often find ourselves socially isolated during one of the biggest learning curves we’ll ever experience. If we return to work soon after birth, we typically have to spend thousands of dollars to leave our vulnerable babies in the care of strangers.
  • Mothers see study after study showing the benefits of breastfeeding, but working outside the home and successfully breastfeeding is often an insurmountable challenge.
  • Even in the few companies that offer paternity leave, fathers risk being judged as not dedicated to their jobs if they take more than a day or two off with a new baby.

We live in a world of absolutes and judgment–be a parent or have a career, but don’t expect to balance both. This maze of extreme choices has come about, in large part, from other divisions in our society. We have lost our “tribes.” We live in variations of the nuclear family, without the support we used to have from our extended families and our communities. We have developed a mentality of, “If you can’t do it all by yourself, you shouldn’t have children.” As a culture, we have lost the interconnections and mutual investment in each other’s lives. Given this, it’s really not surprising that so many of our social policies are so family-unfriendly.

When we see a glimpse of hope that maybe there is a way to bridge the chasm between our family and work lives, people are quick to shoot it down as unrealistic on a large scale.

When Jo Swinson, a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, tries to change the rules so that she has the option to bring her baby into the House of Commons, she’s chided for creating unrealistic expectations: “[H]ow many new mums in other walks of life can bring their babies to work day in day out?”

Jo Swinson and Family<br />Photo Credit: Daily Mail

Jo Swinson and her family
Photo Credit: Daily Mail

Licia Ronzulli with her daughter, Vittoria<br />Photo Credit: Vincent Kessler and Jean-Marc Loos/Reuters

Licia Ronzulli with her daughter, Vittoria
Photo Credit: Vincent Kessler and Jean-Marc Loos/Reuters

Italian MP Licia Ronzulli has been bringing her daughter with her to the European Parliament at various points since she was a baby, triggering ongoing international debate about whether her decision is “appropriate.”

In some circles, these high-profile mothers—and others like them—have been hailed as heroes of finding a successful balance between career and family. However, bringing children to work is still considered to be a choice that is reserved only for politicians, movie stars, and (sometimes) bosses. There’s an assumption that it could never work for the rest of us.

But across the world, a quiet revolution has already begun.

These pioneers of a new world bring their young babies to work every day and care for them at their desks, in their offices, and while helping customers at stores. They have jobs as designers, as bank tellers, as programmers and cashiers and teachers. They are mothers and fathers in law firms, schools, manufacturing companies, and government agencies. More than 2,100 families have discovered that not only is it possible to work with your babies by your side, it’s the key to creating a truly family-friendly culture.

Mothers, fathers, and babies benefit from having the social network of the workplace in the early months of a baby’s life. Mothers who choose to breastfeed find it far easier to successfully do so when they have their babies with them.

Fathers who bring their babies to work come to be viewed as just as integral to their children’s well-being–and just as competent–as mothers, which equalizes gender roles.

When babies-at-work programs are set up right, coworkers find themselves bonding with these children. They become emotionally invested in the well-being of the babies—and everything changes.

People treat each other better and trust each other more.

Parents find themselves with more career options because their peers and managers see firsthand that they can be skilled professionals and skilled parents at the same time. Because they can raise their children while still being present in the workplace, parents are more financially stable, and they don’t miss out on job advancement opportunities.

Companies become more open to other family-friendly policies because it’s not about “other people’s kids” anymore. These policies become personal—they are inspired by specific children who are loved and welcomed within the community of the workplace. These programs bring back the village; they bring back the supportive culture that we seemed to have lost.

Margot Merrill Fernandez used to work at a marketing firm that was subsequently bought by Facebook. In this video, she describes her less-than-ideal experience with her first child:

 

After our organization, the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, helped Margot’s firm to start a babies-at-work program, she brought her second baby to work with her. Although she was initially skeptical of being able to make it work, she ultimately told us this:

Margot with her daughter, Story

Margot with
her daughter, Story

“I didn’t quite believe all of that fluffy stuff you promised about everyone being happier at first. But it’s true. Amazing for the culture and morale.”

Debbie Sallen started a baby program at Valley Credit Union, which hosted 70 babies over the next ten years. After Valley was bought out, Debbie moved to Alliance Credit Union and proceeded to start another baby program there. Alliance has hosted three babies so far and expects at least three more this year. The feedback from credit union members has been overwhelmingly positive. Along with coworkers, members have also bonded with the babies and frequently ask to see and hold them. One member commented, “That is so awesome!” when a participating mom explained why she had her baby with her.

 Vice President of Human Resources, Debbie Sallen, with baby Maxson at Alliance Credit Union

Vice President of Human Resources,
Debbie Sallen,
with baby Maxson
at Alliance Credit Union

Hawaii First Federal Credit Union started a baby program in 2011, and they found that productivity increased because everyone was so much happier having the babies around.

Christopher and his son, Jackson

Christopher and his son, Jackson,
at Hawaii First Federal Credit Union

Addison Lee, a taxi company in London, was featured in a BBC documentary about baby programs in 2012. The company allowed babies and toddlers up to 2 years of age to come to work with their parents in their 500-person headquarters. In spite of tremendous skepticism at the beginning of the experiment, by the end of the month-long trial, the company had decided to permanently allow babies to come to work until a year of age. Addison Lee also began building an on-site day care facility because they had come to understand the cultural transformation that results from supporting employees and their families.

Shellon with her daughter, Mahdka, at Addison Lee<br />Photo Credit: BBC

Shellon with her daughter, Mahdka,
at Addison Lee
Photo Credit: BBC

And these are just a few of the more than 180 organizations in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom that we know have successfully hosted babies at work.

We are launching a clearinghouse to bring babies-at-work programs into the mainstream.

We know that there are many more baby-inclusive companies than the ones we’ve documented over the past several years, and we know that there are other companies that regularly allow older children to come to work after school or during school vacations. But we need your help to find them.

Please join our efforts on Facebook or Twitter, or you can email us privately if you prefer.

Help us to create a world in which this is just another work day:

Amanda and Teagan at W.S. Badger Company (Photo by Kelli Strickland)

Amanda and Teagan
at W.S. Badger Company
(Photo by Kelli Strickland)

 

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My Journey to Bringing Babies to Work

I was never able to take more than four weeks off work after the births of my children. My husband filed for divorce a week after the birth of our third daughter. Two weeks later, I moved on my own with our children from Utah to Massachusetts, where my soon-to-be-ex-husband was living for work. In order to support my family, I had no alternative but to start full-time temp work a week after the move. With the 1.5-hour commute into Boston, I was away from my children for 13 hours a day, five days a week, for the next two months. Trying to successfully breastfeed meant pumping in bathrooms. I vividly remember standing next to a sink in a tiny bathroom trying to balance the pump gear (even the stall was too far away from the electrical outlet) and desperately willing my body to relax so that the pump could do its job. Most days I couldn’t stop the tears as I stared at the bottle with less than an ounce of milk in it each time I pumped, feeling like a complete failure for being away from my baby so much and not even being able to make enough milk for her.

The only reason I maintained any semblance of sanity during that time was the support of my baby’s child care provider, Debbie. Within only a few weeks, it became obvious that Debbie had grown to adore my baby daughter, Echo. Debbie was understanding when my commute made me late for pickup, even when it became clear that it was going to be a regular occurrence. She started asking questions about our situation and became a trusted confidant about the stresses we were experiencing. She even kept my daughters overnight several times when I had to fly to California for a family situation. Debbie’s love for Echo resulted in her going out of her way to help our struggling family, which made all the difference for me and my girls.

A few months after our move, I happened to read an article about a credit union in California that allowed its employees to bring their babies to work every day and care for them while doing their jobs until the babies were six months old. Captivated by the idea of not having to separate from a baby who was only weeks old, I called the company. To my amazement, I was told that even though there had been a lot of skepticism when the program was first proposed, the credit union’s staff—from management to tellers—now loved having babies around. Participating parents were still able to get their work done, and the program increased company morale, retention, teamwork, and recruitment. It even attracted new customers and made them more loyal; a branch manager described watching credit union members intentionally choosing longer lines so that they could interact with a teller’s baby when they got to the front.

Once I started looking, I found six other companies with baby programs, and they all said the same things about the benefits the programs created. For some reason, once the first baby started coming to work within a structured program, everything changed. Coworkers—even those who weren’t parents themselves and didn’t particularly like kids in general—loved playing with the babies and would often seek them out for cuddles if they were having a stressful day. They would volunteer to care for the babies if the parents were overwhelmed with an intense project or needed to go to a meeting.

The babies who came to work rarely cried for more than a few seconds, and they thrived in the supportive communities that these workplaces provided. Quite a few of these baby-inclusive organizations ended up implementing other family-friendly policies—such as telecommuting, work shares, and even building on-site child care facilities in some cases. The baby program enabled management to see firsthand that both mothers and fathers could be both dedicated employees and dedicated parents at the same time.

After the difficulties I had experienced with my own babies, I became consumed with understanding why these babies-at-work programs worked so well. I spent every free moment over the following eight years searching for more companies and talking to as many people as I could who had experience with or could give me insight into these programs. Six companies became thirty, then seventy, and we’re now up to more than 180 confirmed baby-inclusive organizations. They range from law firms to consulting firms to credit unions to schools to government agencies—in dozens of industries, dozens of states, private sector and public, in organizations ranging from 3 to 3,000 employees. More than 2,100 babies have successfully come to work in these companies.

Parents who were able to bring their babies to work were very responsive to their children’s needs and made sure to do their work efficiently to ensure that they would be able to continue participating in the program. This certainly played a large part in how happy these babies tended to be compared to what people typically expected before a program was implemented. But there was something else going on. In our culture with restaurants that ban kids, hostility toward parents whose toddlers melt down in the grocery store, and harsh judgment of mothers who nurse in public, why were the people in all of these very different companies almost uniformly welcoming of other people’s children? The effect wasn’t even limited to babies. In the several companies I was able to find that allowed children of all ages to come to work with their parents, coworkers would play with the toddlers and come up with little projects—like handing out the mail—to enable older children to feel useful and valued within the workplace community.

The answer ties in to why Debbie did so much to help my own family. She had developed a bond with Echo, and from that point forward, Echo’s—and by extension the rest of our family’s—happiness and well-being mattered to her personally. For non-parents whose past experience with babies might have been limited to fervently wishing, “Please make that baby on my flight stop screaming,” a baby program gives them the opportunity to get to know these children as individuals and they develop deep attachments to them. Once that happens, judgment and resentment disappears over things like parents taking a day off when their child is sick. It’s no longer, “Why does she get all this time off just because she has a kid?” Instead, it becomes, “Oh, Katie is sick? Of course you should stay home and take care of her!”

In baby-inclusive companies, child-friendly and flexible work policies start to matter to everyone, because they impact a child that the workplace community has grown to love. Negative stereotypes about children or parents fade away in the light of these personal connections, and a community of mutual support and understanding develops. These businesses become a microcosm of what advocates for work and family balance have worked so hard to achieve in our society.

Because mothers who bring their babies to work with them for six or eight months can more easily remain present in the workplace after having a child, respect for their skills and abilities increases and it is easier for them to achieve their professional goals. Mothers who wish to breastfeed find it far easier to do so successfully if they can keep their baby with them all day. Fathers who bring their babies to work often initially notice stereotypes about men not being as capable caregivers as women. Several fathers I spoke with described women in their workplaces actually taking over care of the baby in the first few weeks, while making unspoken or sometimes explicit assumptions about the fathers not doing things “correctly.” Over time, though, this would shift to acknowledgment of the father’s competence and their importance in their children’s lives. Bringing their babies to work also gave fathers the opportunity to develop a closer bond with their babies and more confidence in their own parenting skills, potentially making these dads more likely to be equal parenting partners as their children grew older.

Babies-at-work programs create an environment of support for families, equality for men and women, and greater understanding between parents and non-parents. They have the potential to break down the artificial walls we have created between career and family. They may even increase overall empathy and kindness in our society. A Canadian organization called Roots of Empathy has documented significant decreases in aggressive behavior and increases in pro-social behavior from their program in which they bring infants and their parents into school classrooms so that students can interact with the babies in a structured setting.

Oxytocin, dubbed the “love hormone,” is released when we have positive physical contact with other people, and research shows that it can make people more likely to trust others and engage in helpful behaviors. Coworkers and managers in baby-inclusive companies routinely hold and snuggle with babies, so it’s no surprise that these companies report increased levels of teamwork and camaraderie after a baby program is implemented. We may be able to create a more supportive society with a simple prescription: “Add babies.”

Christopher and Jackson

Christopher and Jackson at Hawaii First Federal Credit Union

 

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