Working Moms

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Some southeastern Wisconsin companies offer flexible schedules and on-site accommodations to help their employees who are working mothers balance their job and family responsibilities. Racine-based S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. and Milwaukee-based Kolb + Co. received national recognition for the benefits they provide to their working mother employees. S.C. Johnson was named as a top 10 company in the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers that appeared in the October issue of Working Mother magazine. S.C. Johnson was also inducted into the inaugural hall of fame created by the magazine for companies that have appeared on the 100 Best list at least 15 times in the 20 year history of the list.

S.C. Johnson appeared 17 times on the list and has been in the top 10 for the last three consecutive years. Kolb + Co. received the 2005 Balance Award from the McLean, Va.-based American Society of Women Accountants (AWSA). The Balance Award recognizes companies with a commitment to work and life balance and an understanding of the concerns of women in the accounting and financial services profession. "I am a working mom, and I need flexibility," said Kelly Semrau, vice president of global public affairs and communications for S.C. Johnson.  Semrau has two girls, ages 6 and 3. She has worked full-time for S.C. Johnson since 2000 and served as a consultant for the company prior to going full-time.

Semrau said the benefits provided by the company, including the on-site Childcare Learning Center, concierge and flexible scheduling, plus the fact that S.C. Johnson closes for business for a week during the holidays, are invaluable and help relieve the stresses of being a working mother.

"It makes me feel like a successful mother and a successful employee," Semrau said. "I don’t have the constant stress of thinking about, ‘Am I being a good mother? Should I not go to that soccer game?’" Semrau had opportunities at other companies, some of which paid more and some with higher titles, but she chose to work for S.C. Johnson and moved from the Chicago area to Racine for the job because of the family-friendly benefits. "You name it, we have it," Semrau said. "If employees have worked a 40-hour week by noon on Friday in the summer, they can go home." During the week before Halloween, Semrau’s mother became ill, and Semrau had to drive five hours to see her at the beginning of the week. Semrau’s daughters were in a Halloween parade at their school at the end of the week. However, she had no problem tending to both situations.

"SCJ is a huge company, and we operate on high trust and working issues out with managers," Semrau said. "There are very few situations where managers have to correct an employee, because no one here wants to lose the flexibility or privileges. We know how special that is."

S.C. Johnson has had its on-site Childcare Learning Center in place for 20 years. In addition, the company offers an option of up to six months of maternity leave that is paid or partially paid, depending on how long an employee has been working at the company. The company also offers an option for a new mother to phase back into a full-time job. "Six months is exceedingly generous, but six months is when the majority of babies sleep through the night," Semrau said. "SCJ determined this after asking a physician when a mother can get a full night’s sleep before returning to work."

S.C. Johnson does have multiple policies and procedures that employees must follow, Semrau said. However, the company offers flexibility because it hopes its employees will be more devoted to the company if they can spend quality time with family outside of work, she said.

"We have tried to make these programs very reasonable, very cost-efficient to the company and to help attract the best talent," Semrau said. "The programs are strategically right on for managing a large workforce in 2005." Kolb + Co. is making similar strides with its 100-employee workforce.

Kolb + Co. has a core hour work requirement of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., said Stefanie Meyers, director of human resources for the company.

The seasonal nature of the accounting industry results in an influx in business between Jan. 1 and April 15, said Sara Davis, director of marketing and brand management for Kolb + Co.  Each year, employees notify the company about how they plan to schedule the amount of hours they are required to work in a year. With the hour commitment policy in place, some employees choose to work extra hours from September through June and take summers off, while still receiving a consistent paycheck, Meyer said. Annual hour commitments depend on each position within Kolb + Co., Meyers said. Senior level management positions, for example, require a 2,300-hour annual commitment to the company, which includes sick days, holiday pay, social events, professional development and time spent with non-profit organizations either at events or sitting on boards, Meyers said.

Employees have the freedom to telecommute, work part-time and leave work early if their work is finished for the day, Meyers said.  "Employees can be more productive when they are not sitting at their desk worrying about their sick child that they left at the neighbor’s house," Davis said. "Employees here are paid to do a job, not to put in hours." Davis originally joined Kolb + Co. in 1993 in the marketing department as a full-time employee and then joined a local law firm full-time for two years. Davis said she came back to Kolb + Co. in 2000 because she wanted to start a family. She knew the culture at the company was friendly to families. When she rejoined the company, she started working three days a week and now has a 2-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl.

Davis makes herself available on her cell phone if a client needs to reach her on the days when she is not in the office. "Working three days a week does not mean set hours," Davis said.  Davis could have an opportunity to work full-time for the company again if she wants to, and if there is an adequate workload for her. Meyers has three children, all under age 10. She is on a full-time schedule but has the flexibility to leave the office early, to come in to work early and to work non-traditional hours.  "Trust is firm-wide and a big reason why I came here," Meyers said. "There is trust across the whole organization as long as (employees) are meeting client demands."

The annual hour commitment has been in place for about five years, and Davis said she does not know of a single incident when the flexibility and trust was misused.  "Being able to leave at 4 p.m. because my work is finished, vs. being required to leave at 5 p.m. because it is the end of the day, means I don’t have restrictions, which is attractive," Meyers said. When Meyers first joined Kolb + Co., a conference in Chicago conflicted with her son’s playoff game in an extracurricular sport. She was allowed to attend her son’s game instead of attending the conference. "All of our shareholders have children and understand the value and importance of being a part of your family’s life," Davis said.

Meyers said Kolb + Co. believes that offering nontraditional working hours to employees helps the company to attract and retain talented people.

Kolb + Co. is moving from its current location at 2400 S. 102nd St., Milwaukee to 13400 Bishops Lane in Brookfield on Jan. 6 to be more centrally located for its employees, Meyer said. According to a survey that Working Mother magazine conducted with its 100 Best applicants, 100 percent of the companies listed offer flex-time plans to employees, compared with 56 percent nationwide; 100 percent offer telecommuting on a part-time basis, compared with 37 percent nationwide; 97 percent offer compressed work weeks, compared with 33 percent nationwide; 54 percent offer paid leave for parents who adopt a child, compared with 18 percent nationwide; and 48 percent offer paid paternity leave, compared with 16 percent nationwide.

"For 20 years we have been measuring companies, holding them accountable and asking them to take giant steps forward in their policies to support America’s working mothers," said Carol Evans, chief executive officer of Working Mother Media. "We are thrilled so much progress has been made, but clearly there is still much to be done. Our country is dependent on the brain, brawn and buzz that women bring to the workplace and the next generation is dependent on their mothers in the workforce today. It is my hope that other companies around the country learn from the best and experience first-hand the value of flexibility as a business imperative."

Working While Pregnant

Dr. Samuel Craft, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Lakeshore Medical Clinics, says most women experiencing healthy pregnancies can work full eight-hour days up until they go into labor.

"I tell patients to try to maintain a positive attitude and try to stay an active and contributing member of the work force," Craft said.

To balance work with a healthy and comfortable pregnancy, Craft suggests the following tips for women:

  1. Eat well and use common sense when eating. Avoid overeating. Visiting a dietician may be helpful for women who are gaining too much weight during pregnancy.
  2. Avoid nausea by steering clear of odors and foods that trigger queasiness.
  3. Take time to relax. If work becomes overwhelming, pregnant women should not be afraid to ask for help or tell a co-worker or supervisor.
  4. Pregnant women should take a few moments of privacy throughout the day to reflect on their pregnancy and touch their bellies.
  5. Consult a doctor before making plans to travel.
  6. Drink plenty of fluids.
  7. Exercise. Physical activity during pregnancy can reduce the physical discomforts of pregnancy.
  8. Rest. Make accommodations during the workday, such as frequent breaks, elevation of feet and a lighter workload.

"Many people wonder about stress or physical labor, lifting, bending, squatting, etc.," Craft said. "I am aware there can be discomforts aggravated by pregnancy, but I am aware of nothing that is dangerous."

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