Betting on Parents in the Workplace

When The White House convened the White House summit on working families three years ago they asked a broad range of policy wonks, advocates, thinkers, leaders and dreamers to join and to consider what would come next for the American workforce. They asked me, in particular, to take at look at the private sector — and so exploring I went.

Funny thing — I landed on an answer that was not about regulation, but rather about economics. The truth about corporate growth and the private sector’s ability to retain, recruit and elevate women was obvious. By ignoring (neither asking nor responding) the needs of women in the workplace was itself a large roadblock on the path to long-term success. I suggested that the answer was in supporting the private sector to find ways to bring families back to work with ease, as a matter of course and with a sense of pride. And while I was full of respect and admiration (and support!) for those pushing for regulated change which was both needed and necessary, my bet — at least in the short term was on enterprise.

Three years ago I made a bet. From my bio:

While Julia is “all ears” and interested in the policy debate, she remains squarely committed to the idea that the shortest path to much-needed solutions lie in partnerships and private sector commitments to paradigm shifts. Her rich history of building successful public-private partnerships and promotional programs has led her to this moment of change.

But in the end, it is the economy stupid. And as an economic imperative, the private sector will rise up to create better environments for the whole person, the parent (or child) in the workplace. The basic economic truth is simply that there is no possible way to recruit and retain the quality of employee that builds long-term success without re-imagining the workplace. Simply, that women need to be represented well throughout an organization but certainly within the C-suite in order for long-term success to be assured. This is about men and women, though the catch-up game is clear.This is not a simple fix but certainly a viable and necessary long-term strategy.

And they have — Ikea, Union Square Hospitality Group, Chobani, Netflix, and most recently American Express to name just a few. And those who have not gotten quite “there” yet have made oaths to get there in time — organizations like EY and Campbell’s Soup have committed building robust programs that respond to real need, build loyalty and shift cultures.

WHY? Not to be nice. Not to be popular. But to continue to grow and thrive. Regardless of administration or legislation, cultural commitment, an honest curiosity and focus on who works for you and why -and building a culture to address that — will continue to be the answer. Beyond words or promises comes complex, integrated shifts, real-time progress that not only wins the war on talent but secures longest term successes for enterprise and employee.

This is the premise of the It’s Working Project —and, that is my bet!

Where are you in this shift? Share your story with the It’s Working Project.

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I Cannot, but IKEA Can

I cannot assemble even one thing from IKEA.

IKEA on the other hand has built something remarkable.

They have taken a bold move, made a real-time investment in their workforce and continued their commentment to parents. They join a small handful of organizations that listened well enough to create meaningful change, making a long-term investment in workers and in partiucalar, families.

IKEA space for family via

As of January 1, IKEA will offer it’s 14,000 salaried and hourly workers in the U.S. up to four months of paid parental leave. The policy applies to mothers and fathers who are birth, adoptive, or foster parents, and it expands on Ikea’s previous policy that gave fives days of paid leave to new parents, plus up to eight weeks of paid disability leave for new moms, according to the Associated Press.

Lars Petersson, president of Ikea’s U.S. division, told The Associated Press the parental leave expansion will give employees a better feeling about the workplace and will mean better service to customers.

“We want them to take time off,” he said. “The home is our arena. We think the home is the most important place for people.” Petersson has really nailed it.

But this did not happen overnight. And that is the impressive part. IKEA started in 2015 by making a clear and honest commitment to raising the quality of employee experience. They did not do any of this quickly, and that is the admirable part. They took their time. They listened.

What did they hear? They heard about wages. They heard about the challenges of inconsistent scheudles on all workers and especially those with families and/or second jobs.

In 2015 they began to raise minimum hourly pay to align with local living wages. This was remarkable in more than half of their workers received an immediate pay bump. In 2016 they raised wages again. At this point hourly workers at IKEA make over $15 an hour.

Additionally, they made a commitment to offering store workers more consistent (now employees can know what to expect) and even fuller schedules (possibily resulting in less of a need for second or third jobs). According to the Wall Street Journal, Three-quarters of employees now work more than 20 hours a week, up from 66% in 2013.

All now parental leave — the jewel in the crown —

According to Fortune, The new policy is remarkable in that it treats salaried and hourly workers the same. The U.S. division of Ikea, the quirky Swedish furniture retailer, is expanding its paid leave benefits for new parents in an effort to attract and retain talent in a tight labor market.

Oh IKEA how I adore you. One of just a handful of organizations to slowly, carefully labor through the complexities of developing parental leave as well as on and off ramp policies that speak to both hourly and salaried employees. I am most impressed by your pragmatism. You took your time and you continue to make every effort to get it right.

Let’s support IKEA — planning a pumping lounge for your work-place? Designing a nursery at home? How about showing a little IKEA love and following their lead (and even their directions!) to build spaces that make us all feel at home!

Do you have a story about your experience with leave or return to work after baby? Please share it with us!

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