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Calvert Honored by Women's Magazine

This year's list of the 100 best companies for working mothers, published by Working Mother magazine, included several companies with ties to the mutual fund industry, but only one stand-alone mutual fund firm. For the seventh time, Calvert Group of Bethesda, MD., made the list.

Among the top five firms honored this year for their innovative programs and benefits were Bank of America of Charlotte, N.C., CIGNA Corp. of Philadelphia, Deutsche Bank of New York, Lincoln Financial Group of Fort Wayne, Ind. and Prudential Securities of Newark, N.J. But several other financial services providers also won kudos for making the grade including American Express of New York, Aetna of Hartford, Conn., Allstate Insurance Co. of Northbrook, Ill., the American Association of Retired Persons of Washington, D.C., Arthur Andersen of Chicago, Ill., Bank One of Chicago, Chase Manhattan Bank of New York, Deloitte & Touche of Wilton, Conn., Ernst & Young of New York, First Union Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., Merrill Lynch of New York, MetLife of New York, PricewaterhouseCoopers of New York, Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Co. of Hartford, Conn. and Security Benefit Group of Topeka, Kan.

This is the 14th year Working Mother magazine has published such a list. Firms this year were rated based on six criteria: leave time for new mothers (and fathers); flexible, compressed work week or work-at-home arrangements; work/life balance programs; career advancement opportunities and women employees' compensation. The magazine's list, originally published in 1986, included only 30 companies.

At Calvert Group, which says that 52 percent of its employees are women including the chief executive officer and chief operational officer, employees are entitled to a $1,000 bonus after the birth of their baby or can get $5,000 toward the cost of an adoption. New mothers are allowed 16 weeks of partially-paid maternity leave (new fathers get two weeks off) and once back at work, mothers who choose to continue nursing can use the firm's lactation room. The firm also offers an onsite backup childcare center. Calvert, known for its socially-responsible investment philosophy, also pays for childcare when workers must travel or put in overtime.

But working mothers are not the only winners at Calvert. The firm, which manages a total of $6.4 billion, also pays 100 percent of employees' public transportation costs, offers on-site parking subsidies for those who do drive and provides incentives to those who bike or walk to work. Walkers and runners can get $120 toward the price of a pair of running shoes; bikers can get a $350 grant toward the purchase of a bike.

Employees can get a free 15-minute massage once a week and are given 12 free community leave days to do their choice of community service. Employees' children, aged 4 through 10, are also encouraged to volunteer. Last month, Calvert hosted its annual Kids Day where children of employees were taken to an animal sanctuary to care for and feed rescued animals.

"We look at benefits holistically," said Judy Shober, vice president of human resources at Calvert. The firm seeks to meet not only the day-to-day survival needs of employees but also their emotional, social and spiritual needs, she said.

"You give some support to your employees and they'll give it back to you," she said.

Security Benefit Group of Topeka, Kan., which manages a total of $9.5 billion in assets in mutual funds and other products, is among those family-friendly firms being honored for its fourth year on Working Mother's best companies list.

"We start with the premise that its helps our bottom line by having family-friendly services," said Howard Fricke, chairman and CEO of Security Benefit.

Fricke estimates that the firm's turnover rate, a modest seven percent to eight percent, is kept in check by its myriad services to employees. In addition, important benefits give the firm its competitive edge in attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees.

"Because we can recruit the best we are more profitable," Fricke said.

Security Benefit made a strong commitment to the parents among its employees last year when it took over the management of its on-site child care center called "The Security Benefit Academy," said Fricke. The daily operation of the center had been out-sourced to an independent management firm. Fricke estimates that the center, which can care for up to 132 children daily, costs Security Benefit $500,000 annually to run. But it is well worth the investment, he said. The firm merged the center's original childcare workers into its own workforce so that they now qualify for employee benefits.

At the suggestion of employees, Security Benefit, seven or eight years ago, removed the distinction between sick and vacation days. Employees now earn 24 days off per year and can decide for themselves how to apportion vacation and sick time.

"Those who stay well get a longer vacation or can stay hom3e," Fricke said. The firm also employs a part-time in-house family physician and a nurse to treat unexpected illnesses among employees and spearhead the firm's stay-well program. The on-site clinic also treats employees' children.

"We have lots of empirical evidence that shows that we are more profitable in embracing family-friendly programs," said Fricke.

While higher profit margins may not be the initial goal among firms that implement family-friendly programs, there can be a quantifiable bonus, some companies said. Prudential, of Newark, N.J., which made Working Mother magazine's elite list of "10 best" of the top 100 family-oriented firms, for example, estimates that for every dollar it spends on its LifeWorks employee resource and referral program, it saves five dollars, according to a company statement. On top of that, the firm's Bright Horizon's back-up childcare center has realized a $227,000 return on its investment in the form of reduced employee absenteeism and turnover, the statement said. Prudential will open two additional back-up childcare centers later this year and plans to offer three after-school children's programs.