By Samantha Samel
Imagine if you didn’t have to spend time figuring out what to make for dinner or researching which car seat you should buy. Imagine if someone reached out to you to suggest what kind of breast pump you should purchase so you weren’t scrambling (read: having a panic attack) during your first days back at work after maternity leave. Imagine if there were a service you could sign up for — a service provided by your company — that did all of that for you.
It may sound like a dream, but that service actually exists. Fifth Third Bank, a company based in Cincinnati with offices in 10 different states, implemented a maternity concierge program this past January to help new moms with the inevitable chaos that comes with returning to work after having a baby. The company’s goal was simple: they wanted to find a way to better retain women by making their lives easier during this often-hellish transition period.
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Teresa Tanner, the company’s chief administrative officer who oversees HR, did her research and discovered that within the year after returning from maternity leave, women were leaving the workforce at twice the rate of other women — and she wanted to change that. The maternity concierge program may sound revolutionary, but it’s completely in line with Fifth Third’s values; the company recently added four paid weeks to both its maternity and paternity leave policies, and it already offered a concierge program to employees to save time on tedious errands like dry cleaning.
The maternity concierge piggybacks off the existing program, but helps pregnant women and new moms specifically — and it doesn’t wait for employees to reach out for help. Tanner’s logic is that no matter how long people are on leave, at a certain point, they’re coming back — and there needs to be a way to ease that transition.
“Instead of waiting for [employees] to ask them [for help or advice], they do an intake interview,” explains Laura Trujillo, senior manager for corporate communications at Fifth Third Bank. “They reach out to women and ask things like, ‘Is this your first kid? Do you have car seat? Do you want us to order you a breast pump?’ They’ll let women know that they need to request access to rooms for breast pumping.”
How exactly does it work? Fifth Third has collaborated with Best Upon Request, another Cincinnati-based company, which helped to build the program. There are two full-time employees who help the maternity concierge customers by doing research and running errands for them.
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“They’ll do things you don’t feel like doing when you’re 7 or 8 months pregnant,” Trujillo, a mother of four, explained. “They’ll grocery-shop for you and put groceries in your refrigerator, for example.” They’ll also research day care programs and plan a baby shower or first birthday party. Employees pay for any goods purchased — but the service is entirely free.
At Fifth Third, this kind of investment was a no-brainer. Trujillo says that while 60 percent of the company’s workforce is women, at the executive and senior level, that drops to 23 percent. “Tanner made the case that we should have more women at the top, and she knew that the year after maternity leave was very critical [in terms of retaining women],” she explains.
The program is a six-figure investment, according to Trujillo, which is relatively minimal considering the company employs 18,000 people. “It’s really made a difference and has been crazy popular,” Trujillo says, adding that when the email went out in January alerting employees of the new program, more than 100 people emailed Tanner directly to remark on how happy they were.
Today, approximately 200 women have taken advantage of the service, 63 percent of whom have used it virtually (only about half of the women have used it in Ohio; the rest reside in one of the other 10 states in which Fifth Third operates.)
Katie Ockerman, one of the maternity concierge customers, credits the program with helping her find balance with her career and being a mom. She’s a financial center manager at Fifth Third and she has a 2-year-old daughter and 10-month-old twins — so she’s had a lot to juggle in recent years.
“Knowing the program was there was the No. 1 major thing for me that made me feel like I was valued at work,” she says. “They’ve sent me meal prep ideas and recipes for dinner, which has been very helpful. I don’t have the time when I get home to be cooking dinner, nor do I want to.”
Ockerman says the service has also helped point her to family-friendly activities in Cincinnati so she didn’t have to spend time researching that herself. “I really enjoy having them at my fingertips if I need a gift idea or party preparations; they can research things,” she adds.
Ockerman always planned to return to work after having her kids, but she says knowing that this program existed made her feel more at ease about the transition. “I breastfed with both [my first daughter and the twins], and there’s a lot more support now [than there was the first time around]. The bank makes sure you have areas for [pumping at work],” she explains.
In fact, adding more support for breastfeeding moms is a newer feature of the maternity concierge program, which is constantly being reviewed and refined so it’s as helpful as it can possibly be; Tanner and her colleagues have meetings every month to check in on what they should be doing differently. “If you’re traveling for work, we’ll pay to send your breast milk home,” Trujillo says, clarifying that this service was added to the program in response to an employee’s request.
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In addition, Fifth Third is making sure that managers and leaders are advised on how to respond if a team member reveals that she’s pregnant. “We want to make sure pregnancy isn’t looked at as an inconvenience,” Trujillo says. “We tell managers to make sure they refer [pregnant employees] to the concierge — and make sure they feel supported and like it’s an exciting thing rather than being worried about telling their boss they’re pregnant. The bank really wanted to try to change the culture around that.”
Originally published on Fairygodboss.