The view from the other side of the pond

Working Mother is the US’ national magazine campaigning for working mothers. It has been going for over 25 years and helps working mums balance their work and family life. asked Helen Jonsen, editor of about the big issues for working mums in the US.

Working Mother is the US’ national magazine for working mothers. It has been campaigning for working mothers for over 25 years and provides advice and support for mums seeking to balance their work and family life.

The magazine compiles, Working Mother 100 Best Companies, an annual survey  which highlights good practice in the US and makes for interesting reading for a UK audience interested in viewing the kind of thing top employers, which include global firms such as Procter & Gamble, are investing in overseas. For example, elder care now outstrips childcare as a reason for women leaving the workplace in the US.

The survey also serves to underline the yawning gap between the best and the rest. While this year’s survey, published in October, showed all of its 100 Best Employers provided benefits such as elder care packages, childcare support and formal mentoring, the average figures for companies in the US were much lower and those for flexible working had fallen on similar figures for the year before. For instance, those providing flexi-time are down from 54% to 49% and job shares and compressed working time is down three percentage points.

Working Mother says that this is worrying because “flex is the least expensive benefit on this [Working Mother] chart and its availability directly impacts on productivity and turnover.”

The US is known for its poor provision of paid maternity leave. In fact, although the top 100 all provide paid maternity leave, only 17% of the rest do.

Other areas where the average company scores a lot worse than the top employers include: lactation rooms [only 28% of the rest supply these]; elder care [11% of companies supply this]; childcare help [17%]; formal mentoring [17%]; job shares [13%]; back up childcare [4%]; and paid paternity leave [17%].

The big issues
Workingmums asked Helen Jonsen, editor of, about what the best companies are doing in the US, what the big issues are and how the recession is affecting progress.

WM: Are you seeing more innovative moves by companies around things like stress management and ways of making working mums’ lives easier? For instance, your survey highlights things like companies allowing employees to have groceries delivered to the office and have on-site medical appointments.

HJ: Top tier services are not the norm in the US. However, the best companies are incorporating wellness into a holistic approach for their employees. They know that overall stress reduction, anti-obesity campaigns and exercise give them a healthier workforce overall which means fewer dollars spent on health care reimbursement and days off. Since we do not have government health insurance, the cost of insuring employees is a big commitment.

WM: Elder care is also a growing issue and I note that quite a few companies in the US help employees with elder care. What does this involve?

HJ: Elder care is becoming crucial as the population has longevity and working parents are caring both for their children and their parents in many cases. A woman is more likely to leave her job to care for a parent than for a child, I heard at a recent health forum presented by Working Mother and General Electric. Each company has specific leave policies, and workers are now protected by the federal Families and Medical Leave Act. While jobs are protected under FMLA, there is no salary requirement attached to it. And there is still no federally mandated paid maternity leave in the US. Paid sick days are not mandated either.

WM: Is back-up [emergency] and sick child care becoming more normalised in the US? Only a few of the major companies provide this in the UK, but there is growing interest in it.

HJ: Companies who already use on-site or contracted childcare provider services are moving to take advantage of these services as well. They realise that more working mums take sick days for their kids than for themselves.

WM: Carol Evans, President of Working Mother, writes about the big gap between the best companies and the rest. Is there a danger that issues that are important to working mums will slip off the agenda in the current economic situation?

HJ: Our Best Companies have retained their commitment to employee benefits. It is good business. While layoffs abound, and the recession is continuing, companies realise they need to maintain morale and have reasons to retain their employees.

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