Melissa Wirt is the founder of breastfeeding apparel company Latched Mama. Her parent-friendly policies are setting a new standard for flexible work.

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Melissa Wirt spent the last 15 months creating new policies and adjusting older ones around her employees who are also parents.

  • Melissa Wirt is the mother of five and owner of nursing apparel company Latched Mama.
  • She created new policies and adjusted older ones to help her employees who are parents during the pandemic.
  • Around 10 million US mothers with school-age children were not actively working in January.
  • This article is part of a series called “Secrets of Success,” which examines specific leadership tips from prominent business leaders.

In one corner of Melissa Wirt’s warehouse, an employee prepared orders next to her daughter, who was attending virtual kindergarten. Meanwhile, an employee’s spouse was learning the ropes so he could join the company while she acted as the primary caregiver.

“We don’t have an HR department, so everything really runs through me,” said Wirt, the founder of breastfeeding clothing company Latched Mama. “Everybody was able to get whatever they needed during the pandemic.”

At a time when 10 million US mothers with school-age children aren’t actively working, Wirt has spent the last 15 months creating new policies and adjusting older ones for working parents to foster a supportive environment. Her leadership strategy has been one of flexibility and support, treating each scenario as its own case with its own unique solution.

“Our ‘why’ at Latched Mama has always been supporting parents, since the day we built the brand,” said Wirt, reflecting on her ability to assist working parents during the crisis. “It was relatively easy when the culture was already set up to allow people to be parents first and just adapt to what they needed.”

Building solutions based on specific needs

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Wirt worked with each employee to find a solution for their specific need, which often included allowing parents to bring their children to work, encouraging flexible hours, and approving paid leave.

Wirt was already the mother of two children when she hatched the idea for her business, which she runs out of her hometown of Midlothian, Virginia. She struggled to find affordable nursing clothes, and in 2014 launched Latched Mama to solve that problem.

Since then, she’s had three more children and spearheaded a generous family leave program; new parents can take 100 days of paid leave and bring their children to the office until their first birthday.

When COVID-19 reached the US, prompting schools to launch remote learning and daycare centers to temporarily close, Wirt knew her employees would need help balancing their careers and children.

“My philosophy as a business owner is that I want somebody to be able to bring their entire self to work,” said Wirt, who manages a 40-person company. “And it’s really hard to bring your entire self when people don’t realize that your entire self also includes your children.”

Wirt worked with each employee to find a solution for their specific need, which often included allowing parents to bring their children to work, encouraging flexible hours, and approving paid leave.

Other times, if one employee was the primary caregiver and their spouse was out of work, Wirt found ways to get them on the company payroll. She tapped that person’s expertise along with offering training sessions for newcomers.

“We were flexible about training entire families because we found that would help us make sure that needs are being met at home as well as needs for us as a company,” Wirt said.

While Wirt’s strategies were tackled on a case-by-case basis, she believes some of those pandemic-inspired policies might endure.

For example, she doesn’t feel the need to drag employees back to the office if they’ve found a rhythm to working from home.

“Most business owners feel the last 15 months have been a complete blur of survival and adapting and pivoting,” Wirt said. “We’re just going to adapt to what’s working now and the new normal.”

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If you’re a parent, here’s how Biden’s new plan will benefit you – from free pre-K to childcare

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President Joe Biden greets Ret. US Marine Cpl. William Kiernan, his wife Leah, and their daughter Madison Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, during a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • President Biden’s American Families Plan includes major investments in childcare.
  • Parents would see more affordable childcare, and childcare workers would get a wage boost.
  • The plan represents a ‘historic investment’ in childcare and parents, according to one expert.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Under President Joe Biden’s latest infrastructure proposal, American parents and workers could see more free and affordable childcare – and childcare workers would get a wage boost.

The American Families Plan would make a multibillion-dollar investment in childcare and universal pre-K, signaling a paradigm shift in federal policy for workers and parents. The package would make childcare more affordable (and lucrative, for its staffers), a move that comes after women have born the brunt of care and unemployment throughout the pandemic.

Melissa Boteach, the vice president for income security and child care/early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, told Insider that the plan would have a “transformative effect” on both children’s access to high-quality early learning, and mothers’ ability to enter, advance, or remain in the workforce.

“It really begins to recognize and value caregiving as a core part of our economy,” Boteach said. Here’s what that means for parents and childcare workers.

Free pre-K and affordable childcare – and increased benefits for childcare workers

The American Families Plan directs $200 billion to create free, universal pre-K, which the White House estimates could benefit 5 million children.

Beyond the pre-K program, the plan also also invests $225 billion in childcare funding. That will go toward making childcare more affordable and higher-quality – and free for some.

With that funding, America’s lowest-earning families wouldn’t pay anything for childcare. Costs would increase on a sliding scale; families who make 150% of their state’s median income would only pay up to 7% of that income on childcare. It’s language that’s very similar to the recently introduced Child Care for Working Families Act (CCWFA).

“It’s finally recognizing that childcare is a public good, one which – whether or not you have children who require childcare – it benefits all of us the same way that roads and bridges, and K-12 public education benefit all of us,” Boteach said. “And that’s a really important shift in mindset, because for a long time we’ve seen childcare as a personal responsibility for every family to navigate on their own.”

The minimum wage for the workers staffing those pre-K and childcare programs would increase to at least $15 an hour. Research from the NWLC finds that 95% of the childcare workforce is female; 20% of childcare workers are Latina, and 19% are Black. The childcare workforce also has a higher share of women with disabilities and women born outside of the country than the average workforce.

Childcare workers were also more likely to live in poverty than the broader workforce, and had difficulty affording their own childcare.

Boteach noted that there are proposals in Congress that would go further and spend more, such as the CCWFA. She said her organization is celebrating this $425 billion investment in the American Families Plan, and looking forward to working with Congress to secure more.

“This is a historic investment that is going to make childcare more affordable for families,” Boteach said. “It’s going to fairly compensate the early educators who do this critical work, and it’s going to increase the availability of childcare.”

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Biden wants to spend $225 billion in his new plan to give you guaranteed sick and family time off work

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $225 billion to create a paid medical and family leave program.
  • It would eventually guarantee 12 weeks of paid leave and would provide workers up to $4,000 per month.
  • House Democrat Richard Neal unveiled a similar plan on Tuesday to ensure paid leave for every American.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In a measure that has been pushed for by Democratic lawmakers and organizations, President Joe Biden’s $1.8 trillion plan being unveiled on Wednesday includes funding to create a national paid family and medical leave program.

Last month, Biden released the first part of his infrastructure plan, which focused both on rebuilding physical infrastructure, like roads and bridges, as well as on climate initiatives and affordable housing investments. The second part of his plan proposes childcare funding and universal pre-K, along with $225 billion over a decade to create a paid medical and family leave program, which would reduce racial disparities in wage loss and improve employee retention.

Nearly one in four mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth, and according to AARP, one in five retirees left the workforce earlier than planned to care for sick family members. Dept. of Labor data also found that 95% of the lowest-wage workers, mostly women and workers of color, lack any access to paid family leave.

“The US would join the rest of the world – and certainly the rest of the high-income world – in offering paid leave to new parents and particularly to new moms, as well as ensuring the ability for people to take leave when they’re sick or need to care for a loved one,” paid-leave expert Vicki Shabo, from think tank New America, told Insider. “We are the only country that doesn’t have any guaranteed paid leave for any reason.”

According to a White House fact sheet, Biden’s plan would guarantee 12 weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness leave by year 10 of the program, and it would also provide workers up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80% for the lowest-wage workers.

This program resembles Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee Richard Neal’s plan introduced on Tuesday to provide universal paid sick leave by setting up 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for every worker in the US, calculating benefits based on average monthly earnings.

“For our economy to fully recover from this pandemic, we must finally acknowledge that workers have families, and caregiving responsibilities are real,” Neal said in a statement. “By acting on this plan, we will rebuild our society to be better and stronger than ever before.”

Insider reported last week that 17 state treasurers were calling on Congress to pass paid family and medical leave, which followed 55 progressive groups urging Biden to invest in the same measure earlier this month.

And In March 2020, a paid sick leave mandate for workers was actually included in President Donald Trump’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but an expansion of that mandate was blocked by now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Biden’s American Rescue Plan extended that credit through September 30.

Shabo said that Biden’s proposal is a good start, and there’s precedent for a phased rollout of paid leave policies. Still, there are some proposals – such as that from Rep. Neal – that would enact leave sooner. But it’s a “good foot in the door.”

“What I would tell a worker is that if the Biden plan is enacted, they’ll no longer have to wonder whether they’ll be able to see their baby’s first smile, or hold the hand of their dying parents,” Shabo said.

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