For those of you who may not have heard about the Working Mother Institute, here’s three key things to know:
- Their research represents more than 2 million employees in the United States.
- American companies get to apply to participate, and are required to answer about 400 questions concerning their leave policies, workforce representation, benefits, childcare, advancement programs, flexibility policies etc.
- The Working Mother Research Institute surveys not only the availability and usage of these programs, but also the accountability of the managers who oversee them.
This year’s winners focus on inclusive benefits for families, namely:
- Minimum number of weeks of fully-paid gender-neutral leave
- Minimum number of weeks of fully-paid maternity leave
- Offering phase-back or reduced-hour program to new moms returning to work
- Average weeks of phase-back for new moms
- Offering backup childcare, and
- Offering care for sick children
Johnson & Johnson has earned the No. 1 spot on this year’s list. The remaining 9 that constitute the top 10 companies for 2019 (in alphabetical order) are: AbbVie, Astellas Pharma U.S., Bain & Company, Deloitte, Ernst & Young LLP, IBM, KPMG, Takeda and Unilever. Moreover, companies that made the list for the first time (which serves to show how the trend to incorporate family-centric perks and policies grows in the US) include: The Estée Lauder Companies, Hasbro, Korn Ferry, NewYork-Presbyterian, NYU Langone Health, Transamerica and Voya Financial.
- The average number of fully paid weeks of maternity leave by the 100 Best Companies is 11 weeks, compared with an average of four weeks nationally (according to the Society for Human Resource Management).
- Companies are continuing to move toward gender-neutral parental leave: 57% of Working Mother 100 Best Companies offer the same number of weeks for Moms’ and Dads’ leave.
- 31% of the 100 Best Companies’ women employees participate in a leadership-development program; 33% of their women employees participate in one-on-one formal mentoring.
- 98% of the 100 Best Companies offer flextime, with 79% of employees using it; 99% offer telecommuting, with 54% of women employees taking advantage of it.
- 75% of the 100 Best Companies offer sick-child care, and 94% have backup/emergency childcare.
Reading about this year’s findings for the US, and how they acknowledge companies who are pointed towards that direction got me thinking about our state here in Greece. Here’s the comparative snapshot:
- Paid Maternity Leave: The average number of paid weeks of maternity leave is 43 weeks. You can take it all upfront or take some full-time and return to work part-time. However, there’s a catch here since these aren’t fully paid weeks: you only get 55% of your salary, unless your company decides to cover for the rest (and there are some notable cases like my own employer that do). Still, should you wish to take advantage of this perk, you get to spend a lot more time with your baby at home, and nobody has the right to fire you while on it, since it’s protected by law. Yay!
- Gender-Neutral Paid Parental Leave: Greece doesn’t seem to know the concept of gender-neutral. I’ve commented on this a few months back: Fathers in Greece are treated as every new family’s guest member. They only get 5 days of fully paid Paternity leave, and they get back to work. If they want additional Parental leave, it’s unpaid. Only case a Dad can have better treatment is if he works in the Public Sector, or if the Mother working at the Private Sector doesn’t take advantage of her own paid Maternal leave. Talk about a disturbance in the Force!
- Leadership Development: Leadership Development programs and formal one-one-one Mentoring addressed to women? Who knows, really? I have found no formal Greek body that monitors or measures this, so I am led to assume this too is left at the discretion of the employers. No wonder initiatives such as Women on Top, a privately held Organization for the professional empowerment of women through mentoring, consulting and life-long learning has gained momentum.
- Flextime: What is that, really? Most Moms I know get stuck with a 9-5 schedule, that has them bound in daily stress during rush-hour to go pick up their kid(s) from someplace and hopefully achieve to spend a half-hour of quality time with them before bedtime. The others have simply quit full-time employment to stay at home. Bottom line? Unless your employer states otherwise, there is no formal policy or legal provision on this area. And one of the projects I love being part of, is my own employer’s TeleWorking initiative where I can pick a day every week to work from home, free from rush hour, public transportation strikes, or the need to formally dress-up. My toddler gets to see me around the house more, and I keep my guilt levels for putting in long hours at a manageable level.
- Emergency Childcare: Your kid falls sick, and you gotta go to work. The state provides you with up to 6 days of unpaid leave per year (if you parent one kid) which can become 8 and 14 days for two and three kids respectively. It’s left to the discretion of the employer to decide whether he chooses to pay you or not, but it’s a good thing there’s formal legal provision on this.
Bottom line from comparing the US with the Greek Working Parental Schemes? In Greece we seem to have a sounder foundation to build upon, given that job protection and paid Maternal leave are well established. However, there’s so much more room for improvement, primarily in terms of equality of perks (for both Parents, across all sectors Public and Private etc.) as well as workforce re-entry and lifelong support of Parents.
It’s almost as if the Greek social ecosystem refuses to acknowledge the radical changes that find their way into people’s lives when they become Parents. I bet my hat that this cognitive dissonance is the root-cause of a fact I found in Mike Wiking’s Little Book of Lykke: parents with younger kids report lower levels of overall life satisfaction than their non-parent peers. They are stressed, they are left unsupported to a large extent, and there’s no practical empathy from the place they are spending most of their time in: the workplace! Why on earth would they feel satisfied?
The Working Mother initiative didn’t just have me reflect upon the Working Parental schemes of the two countries. It also got me thinking about the available tools in the market to raise this issue, such as corporate evaluation in terms of Parenting schemes. There must be something there, I reckoned.
The Working Mother Institute limits itself to the US marketplace, so they don’t seem to worry about either Europe or Greece for that matter. But Great Place to Work® does. The parent company (also American) actively looks upon working Parents through their Best Workplaces for Parents™ list, so my expectations from the Greek Chapter were great! I went looking on their website, all hopes held high that I would proudly report back the 100 Best Workplaces for Parents in Greece: the companies for whom the respective working experiences is a clear priority. And what did I find? Bazinga! The Greek Chapter only serves the Best Workplaces in Greece™ list.
Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s super useful that there is someone out there who cares enough to put together a list of variables that make an organization a great place to work for its employees. I just dream and expect even more. More action. More momentum. More focus on working Parents and how it’s in our society’s overall interests to protect and support them. At least there’s some encouraging news arriving from the European Union front, although we won’t see them for another year or three.
Back in August 2019, the EU introduced the Work-Life Balance Directive: a set of legislative actions designed to modernise the existing EU legal and policy frameworks, with the aims of better supporting a work-life balance for parents and carers, encouraging a more equal sharing of parental leave between men and women, and addressing women’s underrepresentation in the labour market. Member States such as Greece now have three years to adopt the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the Directive.
The good new for Greece is that the aforementioned Directive forces three changes towards the right direction:
- Providing new Dads with a few extra days of paid leave (+5)
- Parental Leave will no longer be 100% unpaid: the two first months will come with some sort of compensation (although we don’t know how much yet).
- Workers can take up to 5 days of paid time-off not only for a sick kid, but also for sick relatives who live with them (such as grandparents).
- Returning working parents will have the right to request flexibility not only on the working hours (full-time/part-time), but also on the place of work. Now, to what extend this perk can and will be supported by employers remains to be seen.
I’m grateful for the changes ahead: they signal a much-needed workplace modernization. But we shouldn’t stop there, and we don’t need to wait another eleven years for the next upgrade (that’s how long it took for the EU to replace the old Maternity Leave Directive with the new Work-Life Balance Directive!). We need massive action, to build a strong movement with ongoing momentum around this. And, God be my witness, I’m gonna help forge that.