Family Forward Workplaces

Q&A with Emily Swartzlander

Emily Swartzlander, President of EBS Strategies, will present on Family Forward Workplaces at the upcoming Women’s Economic Development Network Conference. As chief strategist for the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation’s Family Forward NC, Emily works with employers across the state to inspire them to incorporate family-friendly workplace policies that are good for business and good for parent and child health and well-being.

What is a family-friendly workplace?

A family-friendly workplace is one that understands that employees’ family lives don’t stop at the door, and that having policies for and a culture supportive of working parents leads to better business outcomes and better outcomes for parents and their children. Family-friendly workplaces support employees through a variety of policies such as paid parental leave, support for breastfeeding or pregnant moms, flexible schedules or child care supports, and they work hard to create a culture where working parents feel supported and valued both as employees and as people.

What are the top 2-3 research points or data you think people need to know about the impact of family-friendly workplaces?

There’s so much data that supports how family-friendly workplaces help businesses, families, and economies, so it’s hard to pull out just a few points. But these are top of mind:

  • According to the Federal Reserve in San Francisco, there would be 5 million more workers in the U.S. workforce if parents had access to more family-friendly benefits.
  • 75% of U.S. mothers and 50% of U.S. fathers say they’ve passed up work opportunities, switched jobs, or quit to care for their children.
  • Nearly 40% of parents nationwide say they’ve left a job because it lacked flexibility.  

Is it hard to sell companies on the benefits of becoming more family-friendly?

No! Actually, we’ve found that employers want to learn more and are highly engaged. We did some research a couple of years back and found that 75 percent of employers in NC, where we primarily work, believe that family-friendly policies have an impact on their business. On top of that, we’ve heard from so many employers who are having trouble hiring and retaining workforce because of the historically low unemployment across the country. They know they need to find new ways to compete for talent, and they know that family-friendly policies are a way to do just that.

The challenge is that many employers, especially small and mid-sized employers, don’t know where to start. Or they get nervous about making big changes like adding paid parental leave, and they don’t understand that there are also smaller changes they can make that will lead to better outcomes for business and for employees and their families. That’s why we created our Guide to Family Forward Workplaces – to really highlight everything employers can do and provide resources, data and support for all employers, but especially those employers who need a little extra support because they don’t have an HR person or a large HR department.

How did you become interested in the relationship between workplace culture and family?

Personally, I have a deep passion for helping families try to find harmony between work and life. I’m a working mom, and I and my friends are trying to navigate a system that is based on an outdated model: a two-parent household, with one parent who works outside the home for pay. Today, only 68.9% of households include two parents, and only 9% of all families—single-parent and two-parent—have one parent who cares for children full time. So that means the vast majority of working parents are trying to work in a system that doesn’t work. I experience the struggle firsthand and through my peers and friends every day.

Through Family Forward NC, I and my colleagues have learned so much from employers and employees. We’ve met with more than 5,000 employers now, and hundreds of employees. And one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is that it’s not enough to have the policies in place on paper. You have to support those policies with a culture that allows employees to feel as though they can actually take the paid parental leave or work from home when they need to or take a break to pump milk at work. Having the culture and the policies is what creates a symbiotic relationship between employees and their employer so they can be their best selves at work, and so they feel their family needs are met. And that’s when employers, employees and their families see the most benefit.

What do you hope participants at the WEDN conference will take-away from your presentation?

My goal is for participants to leave feeling like they understand the family-friendly policies that can make a positive impact on business and on families, and that they have some tools and beginning steps to make changes within their own workplaces or communities.

Connect with Emily Swartzlander on LinkedIn and hear her speak at the WEDN conference on February 26-27. Register at

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