The Family-Friendly Corporation

Amy Dunkin

Harold W. McGraw III, known to all of us at BusinessWeek simply as Terry, is chairman and CEO of our parent corporation, The McGraw-Hill Cos. As such, he's involved with every facet of this muli-faceted information services powerhouse. Yet of all its achievements last year, he was especially proud to see McGraw-Hill named to Working Mother magazine's 100 Best Companies list for 2005. Of course, the fact that we were No. 15 in the ranking and not in the Top 10 rankled this competitive businessman.

As the company prepares its application for the 2006 list, I sat down with Terry in his corner-office suite on the 49th floor of the McGraw-Hill building in Manhattan to discuss the Working Mother award and the kind of corporate culture that promotes work-life balance. Excerpts of our Feb. 15 conversation appear below.

AD: One of the inspirations for this Working Parents blog was winning the Working Mother award. Why did you feel the award was important for McGraw-Hill?

TM: I’m going to be brutally honest. My first reaction when I was asked about the award was, eh, I’m not that excited about it. I said I don’t need an award to do the right thing...But when I asked people, 'Is this award important to you?', they were not only saying yes, they were saying it was critically important. It is such an important message to send. They changed my view.

AD: So now we're in the process of applying for 2006.

TM: There’s no turning back now. By the way, this leads to other fun discussions. What about an African American benchmark? Other affinity groups? What about working dads? All it does is it engages everybody. Sometimes there are things you can do, sometimes there are things you can’t do. But if you don’t raise them, you’ll never do anything.

AD: If you were counseling another CEO about the most important attributes of a company that promotes good work-family balance, what would you say?

TM: You've really got to think those things through as an organization. It’s not a top-down or bottom-up experience, everybody’s got to be engaged...Even though we’re talking about work-life balance, it’s really about an attitude. How do you train a manager to think about growth, for example? Do you say from 11:00 to 2:00 we’ll be focused on growth? You can’t do that. All of these things are about being aware of what’s going on, how people are affected...If you have that kind of discourse, ideas come up, we can try that.

AD: Can you give an example of this kind of discourse that led to a positive result affecting work-life issues at McGraw-Hill?

TM: I think about a journalist at BusinessWeek who wrote me a nice letter about [the need for adoption benefits]. What really bugged me was, hey, didn’t anyone in human resources come up with this? How could we have missed on something like that? It took one person to raise the issue because they cared about the company, they cared about the people who were around them, they cared about a future person who might be going through that. I couldn’t have been more appreciative. By the way, in that particular case, we could do something.
[For the record, Terry was referring to a letter I wrote in 1997 with another BW writer. In 1999, McGraw-Hill started offering all full-time employees reimbursement for adoption expenses.]

AD: So change is often just a matter of getting the attention of the right person and making them aware.

TM: The approach has got to be open. Anything that fosters dialogue about the environment in which we do our work is good.

AD: Here’s something I’ve heard, that very often the acceptance of flexible schedules and other work/life accommodations is more manager driven than company-wide. What do you do when you run up against a resistant manager?

TM: One conversation we had at [a recent working mother] breakfast had to do with mothers who had children in daycare centers. What do you do if you’re an hour away from a daycare center and it’s 5:00? You've got to get up and go...When we talk about resistant managers, my first thought is someone who says, 'Oh no, there goes Amy again'. That’s a person thinking solely of an outcome.

AD: In my own personal situation, I had a babysitter on maternity leave and put the kids in an afterschool program where they had to be picked up at 6:00. When I walked out the door to make that 5:20 train, I took my notebook computer that McGraw-Hill gave me, and if something had to be done, I could do it later at home. So my managers knew I wasn’t just dropping everything and leaving them to pick up the pieces.

TM: By the way, isn’t that exciting? This gets amplified over and over and over again throughout the corporation. What I find is that people are working twice as hard because they so appreciate the flexibility. You almost have to say 'Slow down, you’ll burn yourself out.' They're not taking advantage. It’s the other way.
People want to live up, do the very best. If they have personal factors influencing them to be a parttimer, they say, 'I don’t want you to think of me as part-time. I’m not a part-thinker or a part-doer. I’m going to prove to you that I’m worthy of this special consideration you give me.' You can’t buy that.

AD: The company really gets its payback.

TM: For BusinessWeek, when the secretary of education is waving that magazine [with "Why Math Will Rock Your World" on the cover] and saying 'This is why we put math and science in the state of the union,' you go 'Wow.' Did we say we had this many part-timers and that many working mothers doing this? The result is what counts.

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