The Power of Asking “How Can We Do Better?”

November 16, 2015As two working moms with six children between us, you might think we have the whole work-life thing licked.  From 1997 when Nancy’s oldest, Julian, was born, to July 2015 when Andrea Taylor Hume made her debut, we have juggled, flexed, balanced, and just about any other term you can think of to grow our families and careers.

Last year, we reflected on that journey with our boss, Susan Peters, Senior VP of HR at GE. Susan’s own daughter was born in 1986, and all of us recognized that the experience of having a baby while working for GE had not really changed in three decades.

Susan asked, “How can we do better?”  Good question.

So we created a working group to brainstorm a fresh approach to providing support for employees through all life and career stages, addressing parental leave, our culture, family care, and more. GE has more than 300,000 employees at work in 171 countries that each have different legal and cultural frameworks.  We began with the United States, expecting to make changes, learn in the process, and then share the learning around the globe.

That powerful question connected us to a deep vein of frustration and energy for change. The struggle to align career, day-to-day work demands, family (in all its forms), community, and personal pursuits is universal.  In a global company connected by always-on technology, we all fight to prevent any part of the matrix from overwhelming the others.  The work group experienced a wave of interest and generated lots of ideas.

Susan championed our recommendations with the senior leadership team and this year we extended parental leave, made it easier to access and use flexible work arrangements, offered preferred access and discounts for childcare, and improved our HR website so it is easier to see all the support that is available.

We also made a shift in how senior professionals manage time off. Now they can take whatever they feel they need, as long as they plan it with their managers. We call it the “permissive” approach and it’s a cultural shift to reflect that the company trusts them to do what’s right for GE and for their family.

The personal pay-off from the project for these two professional moms has been tremendous, including, for example, hearing from a colleague that extended parental leave allowed him to be home with his baby when his wife had post-natal complications.   

Pretty much everything has changed for GE since Susan started her family. Now our policies, benefits, and culture are catching up with the revolution in technology, globalization, social change, and demographics, making our employees’ lives simpler so they can stay energized and bring their best selves to work every day.  There’s much more to be done, but we have proven the power of simply asking, “Can’t we do better?”

Cara Hume is Supply chain HR leader, GE Power & Water, Schenectady, New York, and mom of  Andrea,   four months  and Caroline, two years.

Nancy Dunn is Diversity program manager, GE Corporate, Fairfield, CT, and mom of  Jared, 13 years; Joshua, 14; Justin 16; and Julian, 18.



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