Girl Scout cookie season kicks off this Saturday, and while that’s pretty delicious news, it’s not even the best reason the Girl Scouts organization made headlines this week.
No, that honor belongs to CEO Beth Wood Shelton at the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa. The exec took to Facebook to announce a new “Infants at Work” benefit that allows all new parents to bring their babies to work with them every single day, for up to 6 months.
But it wasn’t just the stand-out policy that earned rave reviews from working parents and made her message go viral. It was also the exec’s full-throated defense of working moms—and what companies must do to keep them happily employed.
“I’m a female executive with 3 children,” Beth began her post. “I have felt, deep in my bones, the fatigue of reporting to a board of directors after being up all night with a newborn; juggling media appearances while frantically cleaning spit up off my lapel; and shaping strategic plans while seeking an appropriate place to pump at executive meetings.”
The difficulty of that delicate balancing act is why so many moms ultimately decide to leave the workforce or scale back their careers—which is a big reason why the wage gap exists between men and women. “According to the American Economic Review, the gender wage gap starts at nearly zero for recent college graduates and widens starkly, up to 55 percent, in the childbearing years, with women falling behind drastically thereafter,” Beth notes. “We want to practice what we preach, and normalize a reality where having children and advancing your career are not mutually exclusive.”
So, Beth decided to put her position of authority to good use and empower other working parents at her organization. When one of her colleagues was preparing to welcome her first child, Beth and the employee began brainstorming innovative ways to support new parents—and the Infants at Work benefit was born.
Critics who’d argue that babies and work don’t always mix might be surprised to learn that Beth agrees—but it doesn’t negate the need for the program, she argues. “As a workplace with nearly 50 full-time and 70 part-time employees, eight locations and a variety of office spaces—from cubicles and conference rooms to campgrounds and retail shops—we know this is ‘disruptive.’ We know babies cry. We know they need attention and care and diapers and quiet places. And yes, we also know that productivity will dip for parents who are multitasking with their infant present. That’s true,” she admits.
“But we also know that we want to attract and retain talented employees, provide economic savings for employees and support employees in their transition back to work. We want to support women who choose to nurse, and support babies in a developmental period of importance.”
The new policy isn’t the only way the organization has “worked hard to create a culture of engagement and flexibility,” Beth notes. “We overhauled our benefits, adding, among many others, eight weeks of paid parental leave for all mothers, fathers and guardians, generous Paid Time Off, flexible work arrangements/telecommuting, and five days of paid bereavement leave for miscarriage.”
And while Beth is aware the program might not work for every employer, she points out there are other options companies can use to support working parents, including extended paid parental leave, onsite day care, telecommuting and more. (We couldn’t agree more, of course. All of Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies offer paid maternity leave, almost all offer telecommuting and many offer onsite daycare.)
If you’re not sobbing yet (or sending Beth your resume), just listen to the story she tells about one of her new hires. “Last year I sat through a final interview to fill an important vacancy in our organization, a chief officer position of whom much is expected. The candidate was excellent. We all eagerly shook hands and discussed possible next steps. The candidate paused and nervously said, ‘I feel that it’s only right to tell you that I am expecting my first child. I am excited about this role and I hope it doesn’t affect your hiring decision but I felt it was right to let you know.’”
Spoiler alert: She got the job.
“She’s back at work. She strategizes, empowers people and contributes in the ways that exceptional employees often do. The difference now, is that the muffled sound of her cooing baby occasionally carries through my office door. Our executive meetings now start with a group of people pausing to smile and speak baby talk to the little person bundled into our group. Then the meeting proceeds.”
That sounds like a pretty wonderful meeting to us.