Between working on rankings and getting our annual consulting guides out recently—not to mention keeping up with recent events in the political sphere—it’s been a busy old fall here at Vault towers. So busy, in fact, that I completely missed a story that would normally fall exactly into our sphere of interest: the fact that one of the world’s better-known clothing companies boasts a 100% retention rate for new moms.
The company: Patagonia.
The reason that stat is so remarkable? As the article in Quartz points out, the average new mom retention rate for companies in the US is about 79%. Clearly, then, Patagonia is doing something right when it comes to thinking about work-life balance, child care, and what it takes to keep employees happy.
So what’s the secret of the company’s success? Here are a couple of highlights from the article, which I recommend anyone with an interest in employee retention, from either side of the equation, to read in full:
While Patagonia has long been known as a company that takes an alternative approach to business—doing everything from encouraging its employees to surf on company time, to asking customers not to buy new products to protect the environment—its focus on building community through family at work somehow still seems eyebrow-raising. The lesson: when your company sees its employees as family, their children simply become an extended part of that family. Here’s how the article describes the roots of Patagonia’s corporate philosophy on supporting parents:
“When Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s iconic founder, and his wife Malinda started the company, their employees were friends and family and they wanted to support them as they worked, and started their families. The solution was not to fix a problem, but to respond to what humans need, including a place to nurse newborns, and later, to provide safe and stimulating child care.”
Not only is Patagonia’s child care center on site, it is designed with the needs of kids and parents in mind, rather than a holding pen for the time-starved. As such, while it isn’t free (prices are competitive with local preschool and daycare centers, “it is run by teachers, some of whom are bilingual and trained in child development.” So parents at Patagonia get peace of mind, as well as the ability to have their kids nearby during their formative years. This has the added benefit of enabling parents to spend more time with their kids (including lunch breaks).
Child care is certainly a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to Patagonia’s new mom retention rates (not to mention levels of satisfaction for new dads), but it’s not the only thing the company is doing. Check out these other benefits:
- 16 weeks of paid leave for new moms, and 12 weeks for new dads and adoptive mothers.
- 12 weeks of full pay if a serious medical condition affects anyone in the family.
- Patagonia will pay for a partner, nanny or teacher to accompany an employee with a child on a business trip.
- Nursing at work—including in meetings—is fully supported.
Of course, Patagonia is a pretty crunchy company in a sector of the economy that is not noted for business suits or burning the midnight oil. And most companies offer little to no support to working parents, viewing their employees’ decision to have families as being outside of the company’s interest or responsibilities. But, in a world where companies are actively looking for ways to retain talent—and especially to increase gender diversity at senior levels—perhaps more should be adopting Patagonia’s model.
Not only does the firm offer definitive proof that this stuff actually works, it may well be the template for the future. With the millennial generation set to become the dominant demographic in the workforce—and rapidly hitting their peak child-rearing years—perhaps companies would be wise to heed the words of Patagonia’s head of HR, as cited in the Quartz piece: “If this group were so insistent about bringing their pets to work, you don’t think they will be as insistent about bringing their kids to work?”