Working Mother magazine has just hit the desk, and the cover trumpets the annual listing of 100 Best Companies for working mothers and other caregivers. The implicit message is that American business acknowledges the value of workers with caregiving responsibilities, and is happily adopting workplace practices to enhance their effectiveness at both the work and family roles. Employers who make the grade enhance their reputation by proving that sensitivity to the needs of a diverse workforce makes companies more productive and boosts the bottom line.
The bright side is that placement on this list is coveted by companies and has over the years made being seen as offering workplace flexibility a positive. But could there be a darker side? Wonks wagging in Washington point to the number of advertising pages bought by some of those very companies whose names are on the list. A personnel officer of one of the winners confided that while the policies are on the books, the corporate culture discourages employees actually implementing the “family-friendly” policies. The survey, of companies with thousands of workers, records the percentage who have access to paid maternity and paternity leave, flexible scheduling, childcare, and sick- or back up child care. Obviously this number could be much higher than those who actually utilize such programs. Rather than serving as an inducement to encourage greater workplace responsiveness, could such listings be the result of corporate PR and publishers’ need for revenue?
Even worse to contemplate, opponents of paid family medical leave, paid sick days, and part-time worker parity, could use such data to argue that legislation making these “perks” minimum workplace standards is clearly unnecessary. If so many employers, who know the needs of their workers most intimately, are voluntarily providing such sterling services on their own initiative, why would we wish to tie their hands by enacting uniform, across-the-board, basic federal labor policies like paid leave or paid sick days? What a chilling effect that would have, they say.
Ironically, the majority of US workers don’t work for corporations, but are employed by small or medium-sized businesses. Most workers don’t have access to these policies, let alone actually benefit from them. They would gain the most, in terms of both economic security and the number of households impacted, from paid leave, paid sick days, and the like. Who is actually helped or hindered by Working Mother’s annual list?