Austin’s workforce demands workplaces that can accommodate their needs, and with unemployment rates below three percent, they are in a place to make those demands. That’s why the timing could be right for a new Family-Friendly Workplace Toolkit created by a nonprofit initiative that encourages and support family-friendly workplaces. Unlike the paid-sick leave ordinance that was resisted by the business community, creators of the family-friendly toolkit sought input from local government and the business community as well, and only offers suggestions for implementation rather than requirements
Created by a nonprofit collaboration between United Way for Greater Austin and the E3 Alliance, the toolkit is aimed at the business community but its goal is to address the need for more childcare and early childhood education. According to the E3 Alliance data, the region doesn’t offer enough childcare slots for every child under five years old. In Travis County, for example, there’s only enough childcare for 62 percent of the children, and in surrounding counties like Bastrop, Blanco, Caldwell, and Hays there’s only enough for about 50 percent or fewer of the children. E3 Alliance also reports that less than half of all students enter Kindergarten ready to learn.
“By focusing on employees who are caregivers of young children, we feel like we can improve early childhood outcomes,” said Cathy McHorse, vice president of United Way’s early childhood programs.
The toolkit includes suggested policies, how to implement them, and the benefits of implementing them. For example, implementing an “infants at work” policy can greatly increase retention of new parents and tend to increase productivity. It also outlines how to implement a program to provide on-site childcare, noting that 64 percent of all children living in Austin have working parents.
The project has the support of city government as well as the Austin Chamber of Commerce, and to date has had more than 25 businesses sign up to try out the toolkit, including Austin Diagnostic Clinic, Kendra Scott, IBM, and Kerbey Lane Cafe. One of the early adopters of a faily-friendly workplace was T3, an advertising agency led by entrepreneur Gay Gaddis. “In the mid 90’s we created the ‘T3 and Under’ program, allowing moms and dads to bring their new babies to work,” said Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3. “I was at risk of losing some of my best people, so we had to take steps. More than 100 babies later, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Investing in family-friendly workplaces pays off in spades.”
McHorse says the toolkit also addresses some of the misconceptions about providing a family-friendly workplace. “Research indicates that the return on investment for these kinds of supports yields longer benefit in their ability to recruit and retain employees,” McHorse said. The program also hopes to attract smaller businesses with the toolkit. “Because it’s really the kind of culture you create,” said McHorse. “A business can support families in a lot of ways without spending any money.”
PHOTO: Gay Gaddis, CEO of advertising agency T3 shares her experience at the May launch of the Family Friendly Workplace Toolkit. Contributed by United Way for Greater Austin.
NOTE: This article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, July 28, 2019.