In 1975, when Kathy McKinless graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia with a degree in accounting, she focused solely on getting the best job she could find.
She never thought, she says, of asking about “family-friendly” policies such as child care, resource and referral programs or flexible work arrangements.
“Things were extraordinarily different then, because women made up only 3 percent of my graduating class, and we weren’t thinking about how an employer might help us balance work and family. We were just glad they were giving women jobs,” said McKinless, a partner at KPMG Peat Marwick, an international accounting and consulting firm based in New York.
“Family-friendly benefits were not a priority, nor was the importance of balancing work and personal time,” said McKinless, who has been with KPMG Peat Marwick for 18 years. “But what women often forget is that your personal life and responsibilities may change. Somewhere down the road you might appreciate it if your job can accommodate your changing needs.”
McKinless, who became a partner in 1986, knows too well what she’s talking about.
“I was married in 1979 and had my first child in 1984,” she said. “My husband died, and I became the sole wage earner for four years, until I remarried in 1989.
McKinless is married to Rich McKinless, also a partner at Peat Marwick. She has four children, 4 to 13 years old. Her years as a single parent, her family responsibilities and the fact she annually interviews hundreds of job applicants - more than half of the new hires at her firm are women - have made McKinless aware of the importance of working for a family-friendly firm.
“About two years ago, I decided to work a reduced schedule, to spend more time with my children,” said McKinless. “I realized that my lifestyle was too hectic to continue.”
McKinless knows she’s lucky to work for a firm known for its flexible schedules, job sharing, career paths for women, generous maternity leave, adoption assistance and elder care support.
A result of the firm’s efforts to hire and retain qualified women shows in the numbers: Six women have made it to partner, she says.
Because of her company’s policies, McKinless has time to do volunteer work close to her heart: She heads a Girl Scout troop.
Company support makes all the difference in the lives of working parents, asserts McKinless, a member of the executive committee on women and family issues of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. And it also pays off for the company, she notes, in increased productivity and decreased turnover.
But finding out after you’re hired what the company’s policies are may be a tad too late, McKinless warns. That’s why she and Catherine Madlinger, a Peat Marwick tax specialist based in Chicago, have some tips about how to learn whether a company will be concerned about your family and personal time.
Madlinger has a 2-year-old daughter and works a flexible, reduced schedule. Two years ago, Madlinger was the first “part-timer” to be named partner.
Here are their tips:
If you’re working with a job placement counselor or college placement center, be sure to emphasize your interest in family-friendly companies.
Search for businesses with established family policies. Do your homework by checking articles on the company and company Web sites.
Talk to present and previous workers at the company to learn about policies, among them mentoring.
When you interview, look for clues such as pictures of children on walls and desks; try to get a sense of when people leave work by scheduling a late appointment; and read the employee newsletter for information about the company culture.
Ask directly about what programs and benefits are offered.
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