Bring your infant to work?

An unconventional approach to maternity and paternity care.

Rebecca Traister
May 23, 2006 5:58PM (UTC)

A reader sent in this piece from Fortune Small Business magazine, about a radical approach to maternity and paternity care at the office.

Gay Gaddis, the owner of the T3 advertising agency in Austin, Texas, wrote about the time that four of her high-ranking employees announced their pregnancies within a six-week period. With fewer than 25 employees, and guessing that several of the women would choose to stay home with their new babies, Gaddis felt she couldn't afford to lose them or conduct searches to replace them, so she made a radical offer: When they came back from their maternity leaves, they could bring their newborns with them.


The results, for T3, were smooth. Gaddis writes that "the moms were so thrilled to be close to their babies that none ever dropped the ball when it came to work. When one had to run to a meeting, another babysat." And as for the nonreproducing employees who might not be thrilled with the transformation of their workplace into a maternity ward? Gaddis writes that their offices weren't anywhere near the "romper room."

The invitation has become company policy: Mothers and fathers can bring their infants to the office with them until they are 9 months old. After the little sprogs start crawling and walking, the company puts them on a priority list at a local day-care facility. Gaddis writes that so far, 33 babies have "grown up" in the offices. And while she says she can't measure the direct impact of the policy on her success, her company is the largest privately held, woman-owned advertising agency in the country, pulling in $60 million a year, and routinely named one of Austin's best places to work. "I'm convinced we would never have reached this size if I hadn't found a creative way to keep our best employees -- and their kids -- happy," Gaddis writes.

So what about this idea of bringing young babies to work after a maternity leave? Clearly, it doesn't solve a childcare problem that extends for most parents until the kids start kindergarten. And it's not a policy that would fly at most workplaces. For one thing, the legal concerns that Gaddis admits her lawyer harbored -- what if something happened to one of the babies at the office? -- would be enough to stop most employers in their tracks. And T3 had lots of advantages as a newborn hangout, including the fact that it was housed in "a historic home in Austin." It's a different, and untenable, situation when your office consists of fluorescent-lit cubicles, let alone in noncorporate workplaces like a school or salon or restaurant or coffee bar. Although come to think of it, there's actually a restaurant near me where a few waitresses and the owners have carried teeny newborns in slings. Too small to self-propel, the babies can't wander into dangerous kitchen territory; they sleep silently as they get schlepped from table to table, and after a few months, they disappear from the restaurant.


But what do Broadsheet readers think of the bring-the-infant-to-work idea in places where it's feasible? Would it change the way you approached a maternity leave? What about nonparents? Is the idea of "distance from the romper room" enough to persuade you that having babies in the office is a practical business idea?

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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