ROME — A much-anticipated child-care center opened at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters here on Sept. 1, taking up to 60 children from 3 months to 3 years old. In doing so, the agency is making good on a long-overdue promise to its staff members as well as carrying out recommendations from an independent evaluation of the organization. The center is a first for the agency, but not a first for the UN: I set one up for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), also in Rome.
Together with other similar initiatives, like reserved parking spaces for pregnant mothers and a nursing facility for mothers to breast-feed their babies, the child-care center represents the agency’s management strategy to provide flexible working arrangements that promote work-life balance goals.
The child-care center, which is 6,458 square feet, not including outdoor space, got its impetus from the agency’s policy on gender equality, released in 2012, which said that “Gender equality is not only an essential means by which FAO can achieve its mandate; it is also a basic human right.”
That policy stemmed from an outside independent evaluation that reviewed the organization’s operations, policies and practices and provided recommendations going forward. The survey and interviews showed that “work-life balance is widely considered to be the key to attracting and retaining more women professionals” and that more flexible working arrangements, better child-care facilities and policies on career development are closely linked.
The child-care center project was financially net-neutral for the agency, meaning no budget funds were allocated toward its implementation. The company that won the contract to operate it paid directly for the construction, but the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is contributing to the center by agreeing to waive the costs of the utilities (water, electricity, heating/cooling, telephone network and waste management) for the first years of the contract. The contractor is responsible for the cleaning.
Employees can use the center for a full day (8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) or from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monthly fees are competitive for Rome, and parents pay the full rate, as the Food and Agriculture Organization does not subsidize the service. For the full day, the fee is about $730 a month; for the part day, about $625 a month. Meals are included in the fees, as are educational instruction and two monthly visits from a pediatrician.
The on-site child-care center is a recognition that such a service is not only a gender issue, but also stems from a policy that supports families and the agency’s commitment to improving the work environment, thus enhancing the overall performance. A strong business case for providing child care in the office setting is based on research that has shown that family friendly workplace practices and policies benefit the employees and the employers.
Research suggests, for example, that companies with such practices enhance their organizational performance. Other studies reinforce that conclusion, showing that on-site child care can help to significantly improve employee productivity by giving parents more peace of mind and less stressful travel time to drop off or pick up children. Another survey found that 90 percent of parents using on-site day care report increased concentration and productivity on the job thanks to reduced worry and distraction.
In addition, a study by Simmons College’s School of Management revealed that 93 percent of parents surveyed cited on-site child care as a vital factor in deciding whether to keep a job. For 42 percent of parents surveyed, the presence of an on-site day-care center was an important reason for deciding to stay with their current employer. In-house care can also help reduce employee absences and save an organization money from reduced turnover.
As we welcome the newest and youngest members of our extended staff family into our workplace, this initiative will help further ensure best practices in gender equality throughout the UN system while demonstrating the Food and Agriculture Organization’s commitment to practice what we preach.