Magazine Honors 3 Companies for Family-Friendly Employee Policies

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Officials at Patagonia Inc. consider the bonding time between a newborn and its parents as a critical stage of the child's development. That's why the Ventura-based outdoor clothing company allows up to two months of paid child-care leave for mothers and fathers in its employ.

The company also offers on-site day care for about 115 children, for which it spends more than $330,000 a year to operate. Parents pay $222 to $469 each month per child, depending on the type of care required. Infants and toddlers need more attention than older children, so fee for them are higher.

Patagonia also helps place children of employees in a network of Ventura homes that offer licensed care, and subsidizes child-care costs based on a family's size and income level. Most of those on a short waiting list for the company's on-site center are pregnant mothers who hope to sign up their children as space becomes available.

Longstanding family-oriented policies such as these earned Patagonia a top spot in Working Mother magazine's 10th annual list of 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers, to be published in its October issue. It is the seventh time Patagonia, with 700 employees worldwide, has made the list, and the second time it has been placed in the top 10.

Two other Ventura County businesses--Amgen Inc. of Thousand Oaks and G.T. Water Products in Moorpark--also made the magazine's top 100 list. Businesses were selected for the list based on an analysis of their opportunities for women to advance, support for child care, salary and benefits.

"We have a philosophy that recognizes that it is difficult to separate personal life from professional life," said Patagonia spokeswoman Lu Setnicka. "Having children in the workplace has been part of the company's operation since its beginnings in the early '70s."

Children have long been a common sight around G.T. Water Products as well. George Tash, owner of the small plumbing product manufacturing company, created an on-site school in 1987 for his own son and daughter. He soon realized he also could provide an education for the children of his employees.

The Montessori-style program has one teacher with a varying number of assistants, serving about 12 to 15 students each semester, ranging from preschool to high school age.

Thanks in large part to the school program, the 27-employee company has made the Working Mother magazine top 100 list each year since 1988.

"The children come and go right with the parents. Parents don't have to worry about getting them to the bus in the morning or about latchkey problems in the afternoon," said Brian Kearsey, the school's teacher. "If a child gets a bump or a scrape, mom is right down the hall."

In a move aimed ultimately at increasing enrollment, the school is in the process of becoming incorporated as a private school, independent of the company. Six children of employees have been enrolled and the school is looking for another 10 students from outside the company.

Marsha Klipp, controller at G.T. Water, said the company would pay the $450 monthly tuition for children of employees. There currently is no tuition for the company school.

At Amgen, officials said they have found that their 182-child, on-site day-care program has served as a good recruiting tool. Ed Garnett, vice president of human resources, said the facility costs about $1.3 million annually to operate, about $550,000 of which is covered by the company.

Amgen, which is new to the magazine's top 100 list, also provides a station for nursing mothers, high chairs in the cafeteria, and extended time off for pregnancies. The company has about 3,800 employees worldwide.

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