Home ยป Working Moms of Milwaukee recognized these 4 businesses for their pro-mom policies. Here's what that means. – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Working Moms of Milwaukee recognized these 4 businesses for their pro-mom policies. Here's what that means. – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

by Arifa Rana

In 2019 and 2020, Working Moms of Milwaukee recognized local businesses that accommodated employees who were breastfeeding moms. The winning businesses’ accommodations included such initiatives as private lactation rooms for employees, the use of hospital grade breast pumps and allowing moms to visit onsite day care facilities during the day to nurse their children.
Breastfeeding-friendly workplaces have long been advocated by working moms who don’t want to give up breastfeeding to go back to work, but also don’t want to give up their careers to be stay-at-home moms. It’s one of the most visible ways companies can help employees achieve work-life balance. 
Susannah Lago, founder of Working Moms of Milwaukee, said women’s feedback from the breastfeeding-friendly awards made her realize something else.
“It became apparent that there are many other things moms are looking for and needing in their workplaces,” said Lago. So a few months ago, the group announced an “upgraded award”: the pro-mom workplace award. 
“The mom community in Milwaukee has asked me for this, to highlight great places for moms to work,” said Lago. “They’re not just mom-friendly though. These are different. They’re pro-mom every step of the way. They’re fighting, advocating, inspiring and promoting moms.”
In evaluating nominees, the organization considered criteria like the percentage of the business’ executives who are mothers, the existence of benefits such as parental leave and childcare allowances, and the workplace’s degree of flexibility in terms of when and where moms work.
This year’s winners are:
The winners were recognized for policies, procedures and philosophies that create a work environment conducive to a better sense of work-life balance.
Related: For third annual Working Moms Day, working moms have child care on their minds
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Dalvery Blackwell, director of African American Breastfeeding Network, said the organization’s model is to hire independent contractors, allowing them to set their own hours “to create the work-home-life balance they need.”
“In reality, a BIPOC woman can spend all her acquired vacation and sick days before summer simply with things like doctor visits and staying home with a sick child,” said Blackwell. “Employment that calls for punching a clock or inflexible schedules are not feasible and realistic to many women that may be the primary breadwinners and households headed by single women.”
Kimberly Kane — who founded Kane Communications after working as a reporter and news anchor at WTMJ-TV — formed her consulting company when one of her children was diagnosed with a mental illness and she was told by a teacher her child’s needs meant she needed to be with him more often. 
“That put me in a position where I had a choice I didn’t want to make, having a career or being an involved mom,” said Kane. 
She left her job and founded her company as a consultant who could set her own schedule, dropping her kids off in the morning, picking them up in the afternoon and doing her work when her kids were doing their schoolwork.
“The fact that the people joining my team were also parents was not lost on me,” said Kane. “The ability to create a dream working environment for working parents is an inspiration for me.”
A key part of that dream working environment is flexibility. Kane said her employees are discouraged from scheduling meetings early in the morning or late in the afternoon so parents who have to drop off and pick up their kids from school don’t feel pressured.
“I tell my employees if it’s going to take them an hour to get to day care in the morning and evening, then let’s create a schedule that works with that,” said Kane. “If our employees need to work from 9 to 3 in the office, that’s fine. What’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong with that?” reflects the views of all the pro-mom award winners — the idea that there’s no reason to hold on to a traditional view of what workplaces look like, especially when those views make it more difficult for employees to strike a work-life balance.
“The pandemic opened people’s eyes to the fact that different ways of working are possible,” said Erin Strohbehn, a partner at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerein & Brown. “Before, it didn’t even occur to me that leaving the office in the afternoon and working at home was something I could even do. Now I’m wondering why I didn’t do this all the time. What difference does it make the location of the computer I use? It doesn’t.”
Strohbehn said one more flexible policy her law firm has embraced is in its system for time off. As Blackwell indicated, many working parents can use up all their PTO very early on each year, just in the time they need to take off to care for sick children and attend their appointments and school events.
Strohbehn said her firm now has an open PTO policy for most employees.
“We don’t track PTO anymore,” Erin said. “As long as you get your work done, you have flexibility. You take the time off that you need.”
Strohbehn also notes that most employees in the legal profession work on a billable hour basis. The minimum hour requirements at large firms can be prohibitive for employees, even if they do have open PTO. That’s why Strohbehn’s firm has lower minimums so PTO can be taken when it’s needed without added stress, and when employees take parental leave, the minimum billable hour requirement is prorated.
“As a smaller law firm, we don’t have the kinds of salaries that large firms have,” said Erin. “But if we’re a better place to work, that often attracts people who value the flexibility we can offer.”
Flexible workday scheduling and PTO polices are important for parents in an environment where child care is often prohibitively expensive and — especially during the pandemic — unreliable.
During the summer of 2021, many of Kane’s clients — local businesses — were starting to ask their employees to return to work, but noticed that women had both left the workforce in bigger numbers than men and were returning to work more slowly.
After conducting surveys and focus groups, Kane found the biggest obstacle for women in the workplace is child care.
“Women really face a difficult reality where they don’t have employer support,” said Kane. “If a parent can’t afford child care or their child care isn’t close to where they work, it’s hard for them to get to work and stay at work and be engaged in work.”
For employers who don’t offer child care subsidies or onsite child care, they can provide an understanding environment that allows parents to be flexible about their scheduling to work around pick-up and drop-off times, take PTO when they need to and — another popular option that was made more acceptable by the pandemic — work from home.
Both Kane Communications and Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown allow employees to work from home two days a week.
Strohbehn and her husband — who is also a partner at her law firm — take advantage of the benefit. “One of us picks our daughter up after school every day and then we work from home for the rest of the day,” said Strohbehn. “It’s nice that she doesn’t have to stay so late at school like she used to.”
And although Jessica Featherstone runs a physical store — Close to the Heart Boutique — she also has employees who perform administrative tasks that don’t require them to be at work in person. 
“We have so many great tools out there that make remote work totally possible,” said Featherstone. “We make sure to set clear expectations for how many hours my remote employee is working each week, and then she can do that from home. She doesn’t have to come in.”
Featherstone also has employees — especially those who work in sales — who have to work in-person. But she also embraces flexibility for those employees by allowing them to bring their children into work with them.
At African American Breastfeeding Network, mothers are encouraged to bring their babies into work, especially those who are breastfeeding. And when the organization runs events, training sessions and press conferences, there are often children present. Blackwell said some young children don’t want to leave their mothers’ side, and that’s fine.
For both Blackwell and Featherstone, the presence of children in the workplace is more than just a convenient allowance that makes their employees’ lives easier. It’s part of a greater philosophy of prioritizing family in all life, including working life.
“Sometimes you have to bring your kids to work, and that’s not something that needs to be totally crazy,” said Featherstone. “If your child care falls through or they can’t go to school, kids are welcome. Kids are just part of our life.”
Contact Amy Schwabe at (262) 875-9488 or amy.schwabe@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @WisFamilyJS, Instagram at @wisfamilyjs or Facebook at WisconsinFamily.

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