- 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
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.”