Hakuhodo Mama Univ. is a project for Hakuhodo employees taking childcare leave to support their return to work at the end of their leave. After several trials, it has been operating as a joint initiative of Hakuhodo Univ. and Hakuhodo’s Human Resource Management Division since 2014, and has been used by many participants as a place to network with other mommy employees and gather information before their return to the workplace. We talked to Ayako Kodama and Hidetomo Kimura of Hakuhodo Univ. and Yutaka Inukai and Sachiko Ito of the Human Resource Management Division—four members in charge of the project today—about the initiative and how they see it developing in the future.
KIMURA: One thing behind the launch of Hakuhodo Mama Univ. is the continuing rise in mommy employee numbers. Currently, one in three female employees is a mother, and the rate at which they have been returning to work after childcare leave has been around 100% for a few years. Another factor was diversification of the ways in which they return to work. Values, family environments and other backgrounds have changed, and a variety of ways to balance work and family are now needed. How to respond to these needs and help smooth the return to work was an issue.
ITO: Previously, we held the program in March, shortly before the mothers’ return to work in April, but this year we held it in October. The reason was that the peak season for the search for childcare (“hokatsu”) is around October, and since we wanted to provide information about nurseries to allow mothers to picture their return to work, we decided that that was the best time. Previously, the Human Resource Management Division also received a lot of queries about the search for childcare, and there were many questions we couldn’t answer since we are not experts on finding good childcare. So from last October, we asked childcare service company Poppins to partner with us as a childrearing concierge our employees could turn to get information, and to organize a “childcare search seminar” to coincide with Hakuhodo Mama Univ. this year.
KIMURA: At the Hakuhodo Mama Univ. event held this October, we first asked mothers who had already returned to work to talk about how they have been working since their return. Next we gave more senior mommy employees time to talk frankly about topics selected as of most interest by participants in a questionnaire prior to the event. After that came the childcare search seminar and then an introduction to related systems and support available to working mothers. In all, the program ran for around three hours, and with childcare provided in a nearby room, the mothers seemed to be able to give it their full attention. It was also a good chance for them to use a child-minding service a trial.
ITO: I hope that events like this will serve as an introduction to Hakuhodo’s support system for achieving work-childcare balance. In particular, there are many initiatives that have been boosted in recent years. For instance, fee support for childcare for sick kids and babysitting, and the Hanasakasu Nursery School, a corporate childcare center that opened in April 2018, as well as policies that allow shorter working hours and teleworking. We want our working moms to know that whether they want to finish their work as quickly as they can or to work as they did prior to taking childcare leave, they can choose a workstyle that suits their circumstances and the company will give them its full support.
KODAMA: I had my baby in 2005, and at that time I was full of anxiety as I didn’t know whether I’d be able to come back to a strategic planning job like I’d had before, and it was like all interaction with the company had been cut off. I would’ve felt much more at ease had I known what support the company could offer, and if I’d had a chance to come to the office during my childcare leave through an event like this it would certainly have been easier to prepare for coming back to work. As a member of the Hakuhodo Kosodate Family Lab after I came back to work I, myself was in an environment where I could exchange information with other mommy employees, and that was a huge emotional help. In that sense, too, I think Hakuhodo Mama Univ., has a major role to play. It really gives you peace of mind to have mommy friends at work that you can easily turn to for advice—mommy friends that can give advice knowing the company environment well, unlike mommy friends from nursery school. I hope that Hakuhodo Mama Univ. becomes a place where moms can meet other moms who they can get through the issues that come up in the long childrearing process together with.
ITO: After I had my child I participated in the Hakuhodo Mama Univ. program held in March 2017. Living far from the office, I thought it was a pain at first in all honesty [smiles wryly], but once I got there it was great fun. Amidst the sometimes lonely days of childcare leave, it was a fun to talk at ease with adults, and the chance to try out the babysitting service was huge. I realized I could leave my child with the service with peace of mind, and decided to use it if something came up. By chance, I was assigned to the Human Resource Management Division on my return from childcare leave, and my child was always getting a fever and the work-childcare balance was tough going in the beginning. But things gradually got better as I started using the various support options available. From that experience, I look forward to telling everyone about the various methods and support measures open to them as someone now involved in providing support for balancing work and childrearing.
INUKAI: I, myself, became involved in this project when I was transferred to the Human Resource Management Division in April this year. When my kids—who are now 20 and 18—were little, there was no such word as “hokatsu” (the search for childcare), so in all honesty, I am really surprised by the situation today. But since Hakuhodo always says “our people are our assets” and that we value “the eclectic over the generic” in our employees, we need to take care to provide an environment where our people can work happily.
Once comment on a questionnaire after the event in October was, “When I talked to someone at another company, they were surprised at the degree of support Hakuhodo provides.” I think the motivation to work at Hakuhodo from this is important, too.
The combination of thinking from the workplace and family and childrearing values gives birth to diverse points of view. I’d like not just moms, but also the people around them to be able to share these viewpoints. The company, too, will be much stronger for this, I think.
KODAMA: The program is currently called Hakuhodo Mama Univ., but the rate at which men take childcare leave is also likely to increase in future, so there are moves afoot to make it easy for daddies to participate, too. After all, childrearing is not exclusive to women.
We are still exploring future directions, but I would like to create a place for thinking carefully about what returning to work will look like in all kinds of families with all kinds of family environments. Hopefully together with the partners.
KODAMA: A lot of invisible household chores and childrearing go on in the home, and the situation differs greatly from family to family. I’d like to support a diverse array of ways of working by helping to pave a way for this work to be made clearly visible and known to partners so that they can get through it together, thereby supporting the work-childrearing balance of each family.