For a small, lucky set of parents, the work-family juggle is relatively easy. Their employers give them paid leave; nannies to accompany them on business trips; flexible hours; child and elder care; and even on-site haircuts and nap rooms.
For the rest of American workers, life tends to be much more difficult.
Working Mother magazine last week released its 30th annual list of the top 100 companies based on support for employees with young children or elderly relatives to care for; women’s advancement; and flexible work options. The list of benefits is enough to make someone working anywhere else sigh.
Take IBM, the only company besides Johnson & Johnson on the list all 30 years. All employees have flex time, new parents get paid leave, and the company pays for fertility treatments, back-up child care and shipments of breast milk home from business trips.
IBM is typical of the companies on the list, and one of a group of elite companies that have been part of an arms race to expand family-friendly benefits. The list also highlights how far removed these companies are from the vast majority of employers.
All the companies on the Working Mother list offer paid maternity leave, compared with 21 percent of companies overall, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, a professional organization that surveys its members each year. Ninety percent of the top companies give paid paternity leave, compared with 17 percent of the rest.
Each of the top companies offers telecommuting, versus 60 percent of companies overall. Ninety-nine percent of the top companies offer referral services for elder care, versus 6 percent of all companies. And of the top companies, 48 percent offer prepared take-home meals, 38 percent offer nap rooms, and 23 percent offer haircuts – compared with 1 or 2 percent of the rest.
“It can be disheartening,” said Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother Media. “We have a workplace structure based on the perfect model employee who has no other demands on their time. Meanwhile, we’re all working and we’re all dealing with family issues.”
When Working Mother began publishing the list three decades ago, only five of the companies offered paid maternity leave, ranging from one week to eight weeks, and none offered paid leave for new fathers or adoptive parents. Today, nearly all offer all three.
As more women have entered the workforce and more families earn two incomes, more companies have felt a need to offer certain benefits. More recently, the benefits have become a means of competing for talented workers, and younger workers and educated women are increasingly demanding them.
Yet the overall number of companies providing flexible work options or family-friendly benefits has remained stagnant for the last five years, according to the Society for Human Resource Management – even as work demands have increased.
There is a sharp income divide: Five percent of those earning in the bottom quartile receive paid family leave, compared with 21 percent of those in the top quartile, according to the Department of Labor.
“The conditions for the women at the top are further and further apart from the women at the bottom,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the think tank New America and author of “Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family,” which will be published next week. “We just are not going to be able to do this one woman at a time or one company at a time, without actual legislation, policy, political action.”
And working at a company with generous benefits does not guarantee equality. Even at the companies on the Working Mother list, women – despite being nearly half of the workforce – are 34 percent of senior managers and 11 percent of chief executives.