I was tempted to write about this story as part of a larger roundup of things that caught my eye this week, but once I got going I couldn’t resist letting it stand on its own.
With the push for more paid leave in the United States for working parents, you’re hearing more stories about unique offerings companies are starting to put in place aimed at helping working mothers transition back to work. This is a good thing. First and foremost, most companies have awful paid leave policies for working parents. Put simply, six weeks unpaid for mothers is disgraceful. Companies need to step in and do their part to fix this issue, because it’s contributing to a lot of inequality in the workplace, in my opinion, namely factors influencing the gender pay gap and women in leadership positions. So any effort to help working mothers has at least a baseline level of merit to it.
This week, The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting piece profiling how one company, Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp, is doing its part to help working mothers. In addition to offering six weeks of paid leave for working mothers at 100 percent or 60 percent of their pay, according to seniority, the financial services firm recently started employing what it is calling “maternity concierges” to tend to the needs of expectant employees and those with infants. Among the services these concierges provide, according to the report:
- Research strollers and other baby products for working parents to buy.
- Ordering breast pumps for working mothers.
- Research fitness options for working mothers so they can “get back in shape.”
- Plan parties where working parents reveal the gender of their unborn child to family and friends.
The Journal story says the move is “intended to keep more women advancing at work during a critical turning point,” before adding that employees at the firm who had taken maternity leave in the previous 12 months left the company at nearly twice the rate of all women at the firm. The bank said in the article it is planning to increase its paid leave program later this year.
While I find Fifth Third’s concierge program a nice perk, I wonder if it is missing the mark in terms of solving its attrition problem. For starters, it appears as if the bank thinks its working mothers aren’t returning to work after leave because of the struggle of planning lavish baby showers or finding a new exercise routine. That seems shortsighted. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure some of the things these concierges offer are very helpful and they should continue to do it. Yet, it’s odd to me that a company that still doesn’t offer fully paid maternity leave to all its employees is spending, as the article says, “six figures” on contracted workers that do this:
“They [the concierges] even plan parties where parents reveal the gender of their unborn child to family and friends, sometimes by cutting into a cake with blue or pink crumb; a concierge arranged one mother-to-be to spread the news by releasing a balloon as opposed to cutting a cake.”
To get a better perspective, I asked a colleague of mine who recently returned from maternity leave what she thought of the story. Her response: “I would rather my employer provide the resources that make each day a little easier vs. the one-offs of planning a birthday party or picking a stroller, which have defined start and end points. Work-life balance is forever ongoing.”
Fifth Third’s concierge program emphasizes only parents that are expecting or have an infant. But ask any parent with children at any age and they’ll likely tell you the most challenging times in terms of managing family and work often come in the later ages. That’s perhaps what’s driving many working mothers to find more flexible career paths once they start a family, not their lack of company help in planning a cake- or balloon-based gender reveal.
If Fifth Third really wants to cut its high rate of mothers not returning to work after leave, maybe it should (a) consider lengthening its leave policy to 12 weeks, fully paid, and (b) institute more flexibility for all employees regarding when and where they get work done. Not only will this spell the burden of the initial time after a child is born, but it will ease the general stress all employees — working parents included — feel as they balance their work and at-home responsibilities.
Until these things happen on a greater scale across all corporations, a concierge program of this ilk just looks a bit silly.
Frank Kalman is Talent Economy’s managing editor. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.