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Expert Interview: Amanda Hemm

April 28 2020 / by Mari Ryan

In this Expert Interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan is joined by Amanda Hemm from Soutiens to discuss family friendly workplaces. Amanda Hemm

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Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan. I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It is my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Amanda Hemm.

Amanda is the co-founder of Soutiens, a company whose mission is to help companies attract, retain, and support confident working parents. Amanda became a mother of two while working as the director of product management at a behavioral health technology firm, and she earned her MBA from Temple University, her undergraduate degree in international business from Salisbury University. She is a certified post-partum doula and a certified lactation educator.

Amanda, welcome. I’m so excited to have you here today.

Amanda Hemm: Thank you so much. I appreciate the offer to be here and speak with your audience.

Mari Ryan: Wonderful. Let’s explore this topic a little bit. Today we want to look at this idea of the support that parents get in the workplace. We know that the U.S. lags way behind other developed countries in our support for families, for benefits, family leave policies, and creating supportive work environments for parents. I’m curious, Amanda, why do you think it is that we are so far behind here in the U.S.?

Amanda Hemm: That is a fascinating question. It’s hard to say why there is not one thing, but it’s definitely been clear over the past couple of weeks that a lot of the policies and the mandates that are driven by the government tend to be focused very much on productivity, capitalism and financial gain, much more so than family-friendly and health-oriented. I think that this is just a different value that we have in our country versus other countries that we are seeing.

Prior to COVID-19, I was a little bit more generous and now my opinion is a little bit more staunch of we need to be taking care of people and families, and starting to turn that tide. What I find to be really interesting is that in our country, it’s the populace that is driving the demand. People are asking for these family-friendly benefits and the policies, whereas in other countries you might see that they have more progressive benefits and policies, but at the same time there is a stigma in the workplace that doesn’t allow people to feel like they can take them. So, there’s a lag in putting those mandates in place and yet, we are very forward-thinking as a populace in wanting them.

Mari Ryan: I think you’re right that your earlier comment about it comes down to values and what’s important. I think there’s a lot of great role models for this in other countries – the Scandinavian countries come to mind as a great example of this. I think it really does come down to values to a certain extent.

Is it fair to say that the majority of workers in this country don’t have family-friendly policies or benefits?

Amanda Hemm: Absolutely. There is a trend, which I’m sure we’ll talk about of some of the larger organizations that are doing some amazing things for family-friendly workplaces, and we hear about them in the news of people who offer six months parental leave, or equal leave for both partners. There’s a lot of examples that we’ll talk about, but that doesn’t encompass the majority of people. So when you look at small businesses, organizations that don’t qualify even for FMLA, or people who are in the gig-economy, there’s not a way, there’s not a system in place to support those family-friendly structures.

We also see a big inequality of the higher-wage earners versus the lower-wage earners of how much, what their access to care and support is at this time period, and a lot of the very male-dominated and traditionally male industries – I think about manufacturing – and some of those industries are hard to put into place in family-friendly policies. As industries, we have a hard time wrapping our head around how to support people who are more hands-on; nurses and doctors and teachers that spend their entire working day hands-on with their patients and students and clients, how do we give them the flexibility to do what they need to do to take care of their families?

Mari Ryan: Before we talk about some of these trends because you are starting to take us there, I’d love to … can you describe what constitutes a family-friendly workplace? What does that look like?

Amanda Hemm: Sure. I struggle with this because it’s so multi-faceted and what it looks like in different industries is very different, but I think it gets down to having a workplace that – again with the values – that really values their employees as a whole person. Realizing that the employees have a life outside of their work, that that life makes them a better employee, that it’s something that needs to be honored and respected and by doing that you’re going to endear the employer to the employee, right, so working on that a little more.

Family-friendly at the macro-level is the idea that we care about people as whole people and not just as that one side. When you start to break it down a little bit more, then that starts to get into place, policies and benefits within the company that carry out those values. So, paid parental leave for both partners, not just the birthing mother. Preconception benefits, benefits that help support the family all the way through until the children are adults. It’s looking at lactation spaces and time to do that. It’s having companies that recognize these benefits and these policies and implement them not just to the executives, but all the way down throughout the company, having that consistency. And it’s having managers that lead with consistency and with empathy and really caring about the people that they for.

Mari Ryan: That’s great. You know, it’s … I wrote a whole book just about that. So, yeah, I can’t agree with you more. It’s got to start with the base level of caring and building a culture based on caring in order to make that effective. All great stuff and all things I firmly believe in.

Let’s move to the trends; what are you seeing as the key trends with regard to family-friendly workplaces?

Amanda Hemm: So, to get back to your original question of why is the U.S. lagging behind? We’re seeing the U.S. lagging behind, but we’re also seeing a trend of states picking up the gap. There are currently eight states that have paid parental leave of some extent, they vary, and another three that are actively legislating acts to go through right now to bring paid parental leave. I think that’s going to be a huge shift as more and more states jump on board. Massachusetts has it in place and is going to be rolling out next year, so we’re still trying to figure out what that means.

I’m seeing that, especially larger companies that states are bringing more of a mandate, are trying to stay ahead of the curve, and they are then offering more and more paid leave. One of those trends is that the paid leave just doesn’t go to the birthing partner, but it goes to both parents and is extended to adoptive parents and foster parents There’s a lot of different ways to create a family and the family-friendly benefits are starting to recognize that and jump on board.

We’re also seeing that, again, it comes from a mandate, but a lot of the support around lactation is really increasing. Having a safe, clean place to pump that has a lock and is not a bathroom. Those are being implemented into workplaces, some because the workplaces just want to do it, and some because it is a mandate and they are starting to catch up.

Mari Ryan: Do we have some legislation that’s driving some of that too?

Amanda Hemm: We do, and that’s state-by-state. So, it is different in every state. It also depends on the size of the company. As with FMLA, it doesn’t apply to everybody. We’re seeing some trends moving in that direction from more of the policy and the things that businesses have to do, the legislation. From the company-driven trends what I’m seeing is a lot of the employee resource groups popping up, so parent groups, parent councils. There’s a lot of momentum from current moms and dads saying let’s make this easier, let’s build this community. Then those employee resource groups are bringing in education programs, courses, they’re creating communication channels just so that there’s the ability to talk to another working parent and say, how are you addressing this issue? How can we work together to make this a little bit easier on your journey. Those are really great trends to see coming along.

On the benefits side we’re seeing benefits that are including infertility treatments and pre-conception benefits, just recognizing there are so many ways to start a family and that companies can start to help out with that. We’re seeing some of the relatively smaller benefits such as Milk Storks. If you have a mom who is pumping and traveling then they will ship the milk back. We’re starting to see some trends. In general with wellness trends, and you know this better than I do, we know that the millennial generation is really pushing for more and more benefits and that having strong benefits and a great benefit package is almost more important, or is more important for many than the salary and that goes a long way towards retention and attracting.

Mari Ryan: I’m curious, do some of these same benefits apply to adoptive families as well?

Amanda Hemm: Some of them do, yeah. It’s company by company, to know what their policies are, and definitely with the age of the children. So parental leave is often taken for the adoptive parents. Adoptive parents are often, although it’s not unheard of, breastfeeding, so the lactation benefits might not go ahead with that. The childcare, whether it’s adoptive or your own child is the same for foster children.

Mari Ryan: Great, it seems like regardless of how a child comes into your family, you should be considered for all of those benefits, it should still apply. I’m curious, from your perspective are family-friendly work policies good for business?

Amanda Hemm: I think so. I really believe so. That’s why I built this company is because I believe it’s not only good for the parents, but it is good for the company as well. The big thing the companies are looking for is retention of their current employees and attracting of new employees, especially when unemployment is so low. That’s a really big deal and as I was saying with the millennials, the benefits are a huge piece of the attraction and the retention piece of it.

We know that one in three new moms are leaving the workplace and we know that moms are having, families are starting later in life. The average age of mothers is going up. So, if you are looking at a new mom who is a little bit older, which usually means more experienced, more entrenched in the workplace, and probably a little bit higher salaried, trying to replace that person is a huge cost to the company for both the financial side of it and also for the institutional knowledge that goes along with somebody. Wanting to implement these benefits that are going to encourage people to stay with the company, to have that loyalty and engagement is good for business.

Mari Ryan: That’s great. Good to know. Now that we are in a situation of finding more people working from home, are there different issues along the supporting families once the workforce becomes more mobile or more working from home?

Amanda Hemm: I think we’re kind of having a crash course right now with COVID-19 and all of the situation of people who were a little unsure of how to work from home, what that technology looked like, how to communicate with their teams. Those were some obstacles that were very real for a lot of companies, that … I’m hoping this is a silver lining that comes out of everything is that people are going to be a little bit more knowledgeable on how to work from home, tolerant of interruptions of kids and pets and life that goes on outside. It’s also underlining for a lot of moms that importance of needing childcare and daycare and that working from home with a child underfoot may not be as easy as we all think that might be.

Mari Ryan: I’m hoping you’re right that there is some silver lining to this. I think there is the potential when some of the restrictions that have been enforced are lifted, people will find that they like having the flexibility. They don’t miss the commuting time. They like the extra time to spend with their families. I really hope this is going to have some long-term positive impacts from a family perspective.

Amanda Hemm: Absolutely. I’m hoping, too, that companies are going to see that people are still productive. We’re still getting our work done in the midst of all of this.

Mari Ryan: Exactly, we are. Amanda, if our audience wants to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing, where can the find you?

Amanda Hemm: We are online at www.soutiens.us and also on all the major social media platforms; Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. We would love to have people join our conversation.

Mari Ryan: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time today and sharing this important information about a topic that impacts so many people. Thanks, Amanda.

Amanda Hemm: Thanks so much for having me.

[End of audio]

Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, workplace family friendly policies, workplace culture, wellness, employee experience, employee wellness, worksite well-being, employee benefits, employee well-being, family friendly workplace, remote working

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.