Mothers(and others) can get a life
ALUMNI | All work and no play may have made Jack a dull boy, but if he only had met with Barbara Taylor, Jack could have found a way to excel at both. For Taylor, BE85, creating opportunities for employees to manage work and life
is not only an important strategy for personal and professional development at her firm, it simply makes sense.
Taylor is a partner and general counsel at
BDO USA, one of the nation's leading accounting
and consulting firms, where strategies like the BDO Women's Initiative and BDO Flex are ingrained in the culture—so ingrained, in fact, that BDO was recognized by Working Mother Magazine as a "Working Mother Best Company" and Taylor
was named a 2011 Working Mother of the Year.
But BDO and its strategic initiatives are crucial for more than the firm's working mothers, says Taylor, leader of the firm's Women's Initiative and Flex strategy since they were introduced in 2005.
"Women represent over 50 percent of accounting graduates and over half of our workforce at BDO," she says. "So when we began assessing our practices for developing and retaining women, we assumed we would discover that flexibility was important in their work schedules."
What Taylor was surprised to learn was that flexibility was an issue for everyone.
"It seemed to be culturally accepted that working mothers could leave early to attend a parent teacher conference," she recalls. "But others—men, single individuals, married people without children—were not as comfortable raising their hands for their personal needs."
So what began as the BDO Women's Initiative, aimed at increasing the recruitment, retention and advancement of top female talent at BDO, grew over time into a second initiative, BDO Flex.
Emphasizing work-life "fit" as opposed to "balance," which Taylor says can imply an inaccurate assumption that the two should be evenly split, BDO Flex operates on a continuum ranging from day-to-day flex time and paid time off to leaves of absence and formal flex-time arrangements.
"Now, our working mothers can continue to flex, while dads can leave early to coach sports teams," Taylor says. "We even have an amateur cartoonist who takes drawing classes and prefers to set aside time for his creative work, so we support him through flex."
Elder care is also an issue Taylor believes will become more predominant in the future and noted the similar time commitments adult children may need to make for their parents.
"We want to make sure we support human talent so employees can deal with whatever they need to in their personal lives while remaining committed to the firm," she says.
While it all may sound too good to be true, Taylor points out that the key to making it work is promoting constant dialogue with employees and having a strategy that addresses both the needs of the firm and personal demands.
"It's a no-brainer that people should be able to leave the office once in a while for a dentist appointment," she says. "Our formal flex is different, though, and involves a plan agreed upon by the employee and supervisor."
Taylor herself was a trailblazer, paving the way with her own personal flex plan before the creation of BDO Flex.
"I started at BDO in 1994,
had a baby in 1997 and started formal flex in 1998," she recalls. "I had the chance to prove my performance for a few years and then I was able to take advantage of a flexible schedule. The first foray can make everyone else comfortable and they'll think, 'If she can do it, I can do it.'"
Article by Kathryn Marrone Meier, AS04, BE06M