Think about it: Where have all the mothers gone?

The outdoor, bike and snowsports industries are losing talented women at an alarming rate. Find out how your company can foster a more family-friendly working environment and be flexible to keep your most talented female employees in this latest column from OIWC exclusive to SNEWS.

If you are reading this column, odds are you work in the outdoor industry. And, odds are, you are not a woman with a child under the age of 18 living at home.

The numbers tell a story that many in the outdoor industry don’t want to face … while ours is an industry full of entrepreneurial opportunities for brilliant, capable people, it is not one that makes it easy to maintain career growth while raising children.

In 2009, OIWC conducted a survey of women in the outdoor, bike and snowsports industry, and learned that while the average age of women in the industry is 38, with 74 percent of women between the ages of 25-44, only 26 percent of these women have children under the age of 18 at home. Compare that to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also revealed in 2009 that across the country, the percentage is closer to 71 percent.

The outdoor, bike and snowsports industries are losing talented women at an alarming rate. While many women decide that leaving their careers to take care of their family is the best solution for them, the majority of women who choose to off-ramp (a term for a temporary departure from the workforce) wish their companies had options that would have made it possible for them to stay in their jobs.

Why should outdoor companies care?

From a strictly business perspective, there are three strong reasons why companies in the outdoor, bike and snowsports industries should be concerned about these women leaving their companies:

  • Loss of talent. According to the Wall Street Journal, women represent 58 percent of the highly credentialed talent pool.
  • Loss of money. The resources and funds that go into hiring, training, and ongoing professional development are flushed down the toilet when an employee leaves.
  • Loss of potential income. Women have buying power, and having women on staff brings that buying power and perspective into a company, ultimately resulting in more profit for a business.

A recent in-depth study conducted by The Center for Work-Life Policy revealed that time-outs take a huge toll on women’s careers. The study found that 73 percent of women trying to return to the workforce after a voluntary timeout for childcare or other reasons have trouble finding a job. Those who do return lose 16 percent of their earning power and over a quarter report a decrease in their management responsibilities and 22 percent had to step down to a lower job title.

So if a company is serious about wanting diversity at the top decision-making levels in a company, they must work on implementing programs that help retain the family caregivers. Without them, women’s earning power and promotion opportunities will never measure up to the linear, lock-step progression of male careers.

Off-Ramping: Why Women Choose to Leave

The most profound data that came out of the Center for Work-Life Policy’s survey is that a full 69 percent of women say they wouldn’t have off-ramped if their companies had offered flexible work options such as reduced-hour schedules, job sharing, part-time career tracks or short unpaid sabbaticals.

Many of the problems with off-ramping have proven and relatively inexpensive solutions, which include:

  • Provide “scenic routes,” temporary flextime or part-time opportunities that keep women on their career track
  • Create flextime work options over the arc of a career
  • Combat the stigma associated with flexible work arrangements
  • Re-imagine work/life balance
  • Help women claim and sustain ambition

Effective Solutions: Timberland Leads the Way

Timberland recognized the value of talented women a long time ago, and began implementing programs aimed at giving all of their employees (not just women) more options if and when they chose to have families.

And these efforts have paid off. In Timberland’s Global Employee Survey, 85 percent of employees report that their manager understands the need to balance work and family responsibilities, and 80 percent report they are able to manage my work responsibilities in a way that allows me to maintain a healthy balance between work and home.

Diane Woods, VP and GM of PRO at Timberland, began working there 13 years ago. Within two years, she had her first child. After struggling with balancing a new baby and her career, she made the decision to resign from her position. On the advice of her father, she asked her boss if it would be possible to work out a flexible schedule with decreased hours. Though she didn’t expect it, she got an immediate “yes, we’ll figure out the details.” Since then, while continuing to work flexibly, she’s had three more children and has been promoted four times.

“A side benefit to my flexible schedule,” Woods added, “is that my whole team is able to have an example of how flexible arrangements can be successful.”

Timberland’s programs don’t stop at flexible schedules, though. They also include generous paid time off (PTO), family-friendly corporate events, on-site daycare, and more. These measures have helped Timberland retain employees who might have otherwise left the company because of caretaking responsibilities.

Flex time: For employees like Woods, Timberland provides flexible work such as a compressed work week, job sharing, and telecommuting. Employees can meet personal obligations and flex their workday as needed while delivering on business objectives.

Time off: Timberland’s PTO program helps caregivers balance life responsibilities with work.

  • Holidays –up to three “floating holidays” that can be combined with standing holidays, for an annual total of 11 paid holidays
  • Lifestyle Leave – Eight days of PTO is available for employee sick time, to take care of family members or to manage personal business (such as parent-teacher conferences, school holidays, doctor’s appointments, etc.). Unused Lifestyle Leave hours can be rolled into a long-term account to a total of 18 additional days of PTO.
  • Family Care Leave – Two weeks PTO can be utilized for a variety of family-related needs including medical, maternity/paternity, or dependent/elder care leaves.
  • Maternity – Two weeks (Family Care Leave) PTO plus six or more weeks through Timberland’s short-term disability program. 

Family-Friendly Environment: Timberland has created an atmosphere that welcomes families into its headquarters, making it simpler to balance work and family needs.

  • Onsite childcare center: 7,800 square-foot center with capacity for over 100 children, ages six weeks to up to six years.
  • Back-up Child Care: up to 20 days a year of back-up child care for $15 per day.
  • Lactation Rooms: two dedicated lactation rooms with cushioned, rocking maternity chairs, a sink, refrigerator and mirror.
  • Snowy Day Program: When schools are closed due to inclement weather, employees bring their kids to work, free of charge. It’s a day packed with fun-filled activities - arts & crafts, Wii and a kid-friendly lunch (with parents).
  • Corporate Events: Timberland is known for its commitment to service, but they take it one step further and help parents pass down that commitment to their children. The Path of Service program provides up to 40 hours PTO each year for employees to volunteer in their communities or at Timberland-hosted service events. For many parents, Path of Service time means more time to spend with their kids – whether that means chaperoning a field trip, coaching a soccer team or time volunteering with their children.
  • On-site Services: dry cleaning, ATM, mail, book fairs, discounted ticket sales, meals-to-go, and more reduce the time needed to check off those every day errands.

OIWC hopes that one day, the outdoor industries can be a model for other industries, showcasing successful work/life balance programs that provide options for women (and men) who choose to have both a career and a family. With companies like Timberland to emulate, this goal is most definitely within reach.

Sally Grimes is the Executive Director of Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, and believes the greatest asset in any organization is its employees. Stay tuned for monthly columns featuring companies big and small, with examples of how they successfully implemented Work/Life balance programs for their employees. If your company has a program you are proud of, email to be featured in an OIWC SNEWS column.



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