Best of the Best: Working Mother’s Top Companies for Women

By Liz O’Donnell (Boston)iStock_000003367609XSmall

Twenty-six financial services firms, seven major technology companies, and four law firms were named in the Working Mother 100 Best Companies 2009 list, giving us hope that despite all the challenges women face and we document on this site every day, there are many companies that understand the value women bring to the workplace. And the companies cited by Working Mother magazine, don’t stop at appreciating the contributions of women at work. They support, promote and retain women workers.

Take Goldman Sachs. One of the reasons Goldman made the list is the global financial services firm started a “Returnship” program for employees reentering the workforce. This program is similar to an internship. Goldman Sachs runs an eight week retraining program to help employees bring their skill sets up to current standards.

Edie Hunt, managing director and chief diversity officer for Goldman Sachs said, “We are very proud to make the Working Mother 100 Best Companies once again. This year we were honored to learn that Working Mother highlighted our Returnship program. We launched this on-ramping internship-like program in 2008, based on the feedback we received from women who had participated in our half-day New Directions conferences. Goldman Sachs is committed to women’s initiatives and will continue to drive innovative programming to remain on the forefront of gender issues.”

That commitment is also evidenced by the 1,474 child-care centers and in-home agencies the firm provides and by the increase in women’s promotions. Thirty percent more women made partner last year than the year prior.

FINRA, the largest independent regulator of U.S. securities firms, also understands the winning formula. The company offers a hotline so that working parents can locate nurseries and day-care centers across the country. They also backup care for less than $5 per hour.

“At FINRA we understand that the demands on our employees extend beyond the workplace and we strive to create an environment where all employees, including our working parents, are able to balance life outside of work and support things that are most important to them,” says Nancy Condon, VP Corporate Communications.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a firm made up of almost 50 percent female employees, also runs a unique program specifically for working mothers.  “Mentor Moms” helps smooth the transition for new mothers returning to work by offering mentors who can provide guidance, advice, and a friendly ear. The firm also reimburses private childcare up to $1,000 per year.

“The unique challenges that working parents face in finding work/life flexibility are exacerbated during times of economic stress,” added Jennifer Allyn, managing director of gender retention and advancement at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “The other side of crisis, however, is opportunity. At PwC, we believe this is an opportune time to invest in and enhance our talent. That is why PwC is committed to creating and maintaining an environment that supports the needs of our working parents in good times and in bad. Our latest efforts such as Mentor Moms don’t require big budgets, just creative collaboration and effective use of resources.”

Known for innovation, the tech sector does not disappoint when it comes to supporting women. Internet and media giant AOL runs a Breakthrough Leadership program in conjunction with Simmons College, where female vice presidents learn how to deflect gender dynamics that could hinder their success.

Michaela Olivera, Senior Vice President of Human Resources participated in the first Breakthough class. Says Olivera, “We have put 50 female leaders through the program since 2003. I found it to be a very valuable leadership program, since it focused on the criticality for women to strengthen their career networks. In order to balance career and family, women typically focus on doing their work and getting home to be with their family, thus neglecting their network. One of my key learnings from the program is that networking should be part of your annual goals. Beginning in 2007, it was opened up to global participants and we have included Europe and India in our participants.” It seems her employer agrees on the value of networking–AOL launched a women’s network and has been offering a mentorship program for 5 years. So far, they have had 60 pairs of mentors.

Child care is also a priority at this organization, as it is for many companies on the list. AOL’s largest campus in Dulles, VA, has two on-site campus day care centers, which include coverage for infants to Kindergarten, after-school programs for elementary school age children, back-up daycare, holiday/spring break mini-camps for school age children, and summer camp.

All of the companies on the list make benefits, flexibility and parental leave a priority. And, as any working mother knows, the ability to work around childcare, and increasingly, elder care can make or break a career.

Working Mother culled the list (which they chose to list alphabetically rather than rank the companies from 1 – 100) based on an extensive application with more than 500 questions on workforce, compensation, child care, flexibility programs, leave policies and more. Seven areas were measured and scored: workforce profile, benefits, women’s issues and advancement, child care, flexible work, parental leave and company culture. As women bypass men on the national payroll, perhaps all companies will realize the value in offering women-friendly programs and policies.