Even while many companies are shedding jobs, squeezing paychecks and reducing health care benefits, working parents still have at least one reason to cheer: More employers are offering flexible schedules and other help for employees with family responsibilities.
That trend emerged in the new "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" survey, whose 1993 results were released Wednesday.
The writers who conducted the survey, sponsored by Working Mother magazine, say the competition for a spot on the 100 Best list intensified sharply this year. More than 1,000 U.S. employers inquired about how they could be considered, roughly double the number from a year earlier, and about 400 completed the required five-page questionnaire.
Three Southland-based companies made the list, although none ranked in the Top 10. The trio included a newcomer to the list, toy maker Mattel Inc. of El Segundo, along with previous winners Patagonia, an outdoor goods firm based in Ventura, and G.T. Water Products, a small plumbing supplies company in Moorpark.
At a time when job security is eroding, observers say, employers increasingly want to burnish their reputations as good workplaces for parents to build morale and keep talented employees.
"It's a very tough time for companies and people, and these programs are one of the things that keep people together," said Milton Moskowitz, one of the writers who worked on the survey.
Still, experts note that the vast majority of working Americans don't participate in so-called work-family or flexible work schedule programs.
A recent study by the consulting firm Work/Family Directions found that less than 2% of employees at 80 major corporations surveyed use telecommuting, job sharing or related initiatives.
Part of the reason, the consultants concluded, is that employees fear they will damage their careers if they participate. In fact, the firm's surveys have found that many male managers consider participation in such programs a sign of a "lack of seriousness" among workers toward their careers.
"It's not enough to put the policies on the books. You have to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable using them," said Phyllis S. Swersky, president of Work/Family Directions.
In addition, Moskowitz said, some companies offer work-family programs at their headquarters but not at other facilities. One exception: Johnson & Johnson, which has opened or is setting up child care centers at all of its major U.S. plants. Partly for that reason, it was named to the Top 10 among the 100 companies recognized by Working Mother.
Another company included in the Top 10 is computer giant IBM, which was honored despite launching large-scale layoffs. IBM was rated highly for, among other things, its $25-million investment in child care programs serving more than 2,000 children.
At Mattel, Working Mother magazine noted the comparatively high percentage of women in managerial and executive jobs, including Jill E. Barad, the company's president, chief operating officer and the mother of two boys, ages 10 and 13.
Grace Moniz, a mother of four and a human resources specialist at Mattel, said she takes advantage of the company's flexible schedule options. When she was out a couple of hours to attend a preschool Thanksgiving program, she took it as paid vacation time: Mattel allows vacations to be taken in increments of as short as one hour.
Moniz also works a "compressed" 30-hour week, enabling her to qualify for full health benefits while freeing her to leave work early enough every day to pick up her children at school. Moniz said she earns 25% less than she would if she worked full time and some benefits are reduced, but she calls the arrangement "a good trade-off" for her and the company.
"If you can help people maintain balance in the personal side of their lives, you can help maintain productivity on the work side," she said. "That's why so many companies are doing this during difficult times."
Overall, 29 companies on last year's list were left off this time, mainly, Moskowitz said, because they were outshone by newcomers to the contest. Moskowitz said two Southland employers dropped, Pacificare and Great Western Bank, still have good programs but lost out to firms with higher percentages of women in managerial and executive jobs.
The other Southland firm dropped from the list, Little Company of Mary Hospital, did not apply this year.
Best Firms for Moms
The following employers, listed alphabetically, were rated the nation's 10 best companies for working mothers. The criteria used were pay scales, opportunities for women to advance and support for child care and other "family-friendly" benefits, including programs such as job sharing, flextime and elder care referrals.
Top 10 Employers for Working Mothers
Company Headquarters AT&T New York Barnett Banks Jacksonville, Fla. Corning Corning, N.Y. Fel-Pro Inc. Skokie, Ill. Glaxco Inc. Research Triangle Park, N.C. IBM Armonk, N.Y. Johnson & Johnson New Brunswick, N.J. Nationsbank Charlotte, N.C. St. Paul Cos. St. Paul, Minn. Xerox Stamford, Conn.
Southland Employers on the Top 100 List
Company Headquarters G.T. Water Products Moorpark Mattel El Segundo Patagonia Ventura
Source: Working Mother magazine