This Company Found the One Major Perk That Keeps Working Moms (& Dads) Happy

One hundred percent! Hundo P! That's how many working moms Patagonia has retained thanks to instilling a work-life balance that includes one major perk -- high quality on-site childcare for employees. The benefits for everyone have proven to be immense, it's not expensive, and Patagonia's success offers a model for how employers can make a huge difference in the quality of life for millions of American moms -- today.

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Patagonia, based in Ventura, California, makes gear for outdoorsy activities. For more than 33 years, the company has provided on-site childcare for its employees, and unsurprisingly, the program has produced a generation of the company's mothers who have been killing it at work.

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Parents at Patagonia can spend their lunch hours with their children and get back to work without feeling guilty or having that sick feeling that they're missing their babies' whole day. Kids ride a bus to the Patagonia campus after school and moms get to spend those few, but important, minutes catching up.

Giving mothers and kids those moments to check in and bond, and just a little extra peace of mind that proximity brings, is easy to provide and makes a huge difference for families.

Again, 100 percent of women at Patagonia who had kids while working there over the past five years have returned to work, and Quartz reports that now (three decades after the program launched), half of all of the organization's managers and senior leaders are women.

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Women across the country of child-bearing age face an impossible decision. Can we afford to have a family? Only 12 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave, making the idea of any kind of time to recover or bond with their baby a luxury rather than a natural part of motherhood.

Can we afford to go back to work after the baby? Full-time childcare for kids under the age of 4 costs an average of about $10,000 a year. That means many minimum-wage earners are using two-thirds of their paycheck to pay for childcare. According to CNN, it's more expensive to send your kid to day care than in-state college.

And what are working mothers buying with all of their hard-earned dollars? Not much. Less than 10 percent of childcare facilities were scored in a 2007 study as "very high." Most only rate "fair."

The result is frazzled mothers trying to cobble together piecemeal childcare making it difficult at best, impossible at worst, for mothers to make it.

American mothers need a childcare safety net that offers a basic level of affordable quality care. And we can't afford to wait for government to slowly churn out policies that take years to make a real impact. We need major employers to step up and do the right thing by working mothers now. We can't afford to wait any longer.

It's time for America's businesses to step up and meet the needs of the women they employ. Spare us the lip service about how respected, cherished, and valued mothers are in America. We need to see some action.

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The reality is that today 40 percent of American households with children have a mother as the primary breadwinner. Want to help the economy? Give mothers access to affordable childcare. Help them to make their family lives just the smallest bit easier for them and reap bottom-line benefits.

Patagonia is providing a blueprint for how to do that. New moms at Patagonia get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and the benefit starts nine months after your start day. So if you get pregnant during your first day of training, you're covered. Fathers and adoptive moms get 12 weeks' paid leave, which is also good for everyone.

And, of course, there's the subsidized, on-site childcare run by teachers and driven by plenty of time outdoors, befitting the outdoor-driven company.

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And get this: Parents who travel on business can have a spouse or nanny join them, on the company's dime -- and if there isn't someone available, one of Patagonia's teachers will fill in.

Oh, and breastfeeding is as accepted in the board room as it is in the childcare center.

That sounds like nothing more than a fantasy land for millions of exhausted, stretched, and broke mothers across the country. We're not looking for traveling nannies or horseback riding. Just a solution to the everyday problems of trying to hustle up and pay for childcare that we know will keep our babies safe while we try to earn a buck.

Is that really so much to ask?

It's time more companies recognize the value and contributions of mothers across the workforce instead of expecting us to keep pretending like everything is OK and we're managing. We're not.

"We wonder why in corporate America women are absent at these levels," Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia, told Quartz. "You have to value caregiving."

And that starts with valuing the caregivers.

 

Image via Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

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