Instead of waiting for government officials to step in, Best Place for Working Parents director Sadie Funk believes private businesses play a key role in changing how the workforce supports their families.
“Research tells us that when families feel more supported at work and when they are more supported at work, particularly through our top 10 research-backed policies, businesses benefit, and [workers] become more productive and successful overall,” Funk said. “Best Place for Working Parents is about bringing together businesses and regions across the country of various sizes and industries committed to pushing forward on policies that support both working parents and their business’ bottom line.”
Sara Redington, director of Strategy and Communications at the Miles Foundation, said that the incoming workforce is looking for family-friendly policies. The Pew Research Center found that 48% of workers who quit their jobs in 2021 cited child care issues as reasons they left.
“The majority of our workforce is struggling with a working parent challenge,” Redington said. “As a business leader, male or female, we have to be thinking about what is going to strengthen our workforce. What is going to make this sustainable for the long term? These are needs that are needed today, right now and urgently that not only impact those parents that are working but business’s bottom line.”
The Best Place for Working Parents is a network of businesses aiming to push forward and implement policies that support working parents and help companies adapt to the needs of the current workforce. The initiative was formed in 2019 in Fort Worth. Through its three-minute self-assessment, corporations can see how they fare against businesses of the same size and industry and instantaneously see if they qualify for the Best Place for Working Parents designation.
“Very quickly, we had people reaching out from Dallas, Austin and San Antonio,” Funk said. “In 2021, we expanded across Texas and then in 2022, we’ve gone national. We’re now in seven states and over 1000 cities. When we look at the impact of Best Place for Working Parents on actual working parents, the lowest estimate is that we’re reaching about 1.5 million employees across the country.”
Funk and Redington spoke to the Dallas Business Journal about how businesses can support working parents and why family-friendly policies are also business-friendly.
What are some of the issues working parents are facing right now? How has the pandemic impacted those existing challenges?
Redington: We surveyed 825 people in Texas last year to see what it will take to get back to work as a working parent. Not surprisingly, 83% of those folks were looking for workplaces with family-friendly practices and policies, and 78% of those that wanted to get back into the workforce needed child care full time, five days a week.
But the other top policies that they were looking for are all part of the Best Place for Working Parents policies. Flexibility was at the top of that list, and (so was) childcare, financial assistance, paid time off and remote work. We feel like the Best Place for Working Parents is a solution not just for businesses but for working parents and our economy.
Funk: We know that pre-pandemic, there was a child care shortage. When we look at middle to upper skilled workers, particularly female workers, some of the reasons they were not in the workforce is because they weren’t able to find the quality child care they were looking for in a way that made them feel comfortable.
Then, we have the pandemic. Suddenly, everybody’s children are at home, hence the 33-year low in women in the workforce. I want to be clear that this doesn’t just impact women. It’s not just a women’s issues, but women are at the heart when we think about issues impacting women and families. We both had women leave the workforce during this time, but we’ve also had businesses adapt in real-time.
For example, one of the things Cook Children’s does is on the first day of school, working parents get to come late to take their child to school. During the pandemic, we saw lots of businesses making meaningful changes so they could hold on to their talent.
Now, we’re at this point where I call it the Great Shake Out. We’re seeing what’s going to stay and what’s going to go, and at the heart of that is remote work and flexibility. How do we allow employees more autonomy to be able to create schedules that work for them, for their families, and to be able to have their best self show up in both places in a way that still supports our business’s overall objectives and get what we need from that employee? I think that’s really where we stand today.
Can you tell me more about the network’s research-backed policies and how those were developed?
Funk: Best Place for Working Parents partners with SMU CORE, the Center on Research and Evaluation, to dive deeper into these top 10 policies. Originally, we got together with 100 business leaders across sizes and industries to ask what was working and what wasn’t.
Then, we paired that with a research dive. What is the research that supports the idea of family-friendly with regard to retention, attraction and productivity? Synthesizing those lived experiences with the research base is how we landed on the top 10 researched back to policies. [The top 10 policies are] company-paid health care coverage, paid time off, parental leave, nursing benefits, some sort of Best Place designation, onsite child care, child care assistance, backup child care, flexible care and working remotely.
We felt like it was important to drive back to the research. We know that when it’s time to make that decision, people want to know that these investments will help their employees and will be meaningful for how their business functions overall. That is why we grounded ourselves into those top 10 research policies.
Additionally, we’re currently part of a three-year research study, again with SMU, to go deeper and deepen the research base supporting these top 10 policies. We’re currently in the recruitment phase and working with 50 businesses across the country to deepen our understanding of the value for businesses in investing in these top 10 policies.
How can family friendly also be business-friendly?
Funk: We know that businesses are losing employees when they’re not family-friendly. Annually, $13 billion is lost in business productivity due to the lack of child care, which is critical in employees leaving the workforce. It costs businesses about six to nine months to replace an employee.
Beyond that, we know that when parental leave and nursing benefits are offered to new parents, they’re more likely to return to the workplace and more likely to stay at that workplace for years compared with those businesses that don’t. Pieces like that drive loyalty, which ultimately saves businesses money and allows their investments in their employees to have more longevity.
What does the future look like for the Best Place for Working Parents?
Redington: It’s a sponsor organization wherever we expand. Whether it’s a city, region or state, there’s a sponsor organization. Those sponsor organizations look very different across the country.
But it’s whoever in the state or region is looking to deepen their economic development efforts and connect their early childhood efforts with the business community or a chamber looking to engage the business community in a tangible way to impact their workforce and the local community.
We would like to be in every state across the United States by 2023. We just hosted a summit, and a lot of what Sadie talked about was [our focus for the summit. We’ll continue to do that every year and bring together the regions to join Best Place for Working Parents. These are the kinds of conversations we want to facilitate across the country and help companies of all sizes and industries find what works to retain and attract the top talent they need today.
Funk: As a result of the Best Place for Working Parents, we are seeing real changes to workforce policies affecting thousands of employees here in North Texas, Texas and our country.
For example, the city of Fort Worth was one of our early partners. They’ve been a great partner of ours, and they put in paid parental leave for all employees. Now, through the expansion to Austin, Travis County is doing the same. As the Best Place for Working Parents, we were able to connect the person with the city of Fort Worth who led that effort with the person in Travis County, who’s driving forward the effort there. They’re both government agencies working here in Texas.
While we have the stats, the research, and the businesses on board, we’re also beginning to see real tangible change in businesses that are affecting not only the success and competitiveness of their businesses but also those families who work for them.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.