Angst. That's the only way to describe the gut-wrenching pull many parents feel when leaving their infant for the first time to return to work. In most businesses, the guilt and anxiety are just something mom or dad has to live with, but at Colt Safety Inc. in St. Louis, owner Christine Bierman offers parents a temporary reprieve by allowing children in the office.
"It just sort of evolved," says 42-year-old Bierman. "First, my CFO was pregnant [in 1986], and she was in a position no one else could fill and couldn't take off six weeks without pay."
Bierman's response was "Come back as soon as you can--and bring the baby."
Since then, children have been welcomed with open arms at Bierman's two St. Louis safety training and consulting companies, Colt Safety Inc. and Safety Technologies Inc.
The solution is only temporary, however. "Once babies start needing [more] attention instead of sleeping most of the day, another solution is necessary," says Bierman.
Her empathy for parents comes from personal experience. "When I first started Colt, my 4-year-old daughter came to the office, and every once in a while, I'd put her to work stamping catalogs or emptying the trash," says Bierman.
Child-care concerns even prompted Bierman to explore opening an on-site day-care facility, but she decided against it after she looked into insurance liability. Nonetheless, she still lets parents bring their children in when baby-sitter problems, doctor's appointments and illnesses arise.
"Allowing children in the office has to fit into your corporate culture," advises Bierman. "I do business from the heart, so it fits our culture. Maybe it's because we're woman-owned and so family-oriented."
And while she acknowledges that children can be a distraction, Bierman says as long as the work gets done, kids will continue to be welcome in the office.
Chambers of commerce focus on women.
When starting a business, the first organization most entrepreneurs join is their local chamber of commerce. But some women entrepreneurs have an additional choice--joining a chamber geared specifically to females.
"We started [in 1988] because 10 Denver businesswomen felt they needed to provide an economic community for women in business through education, training, alliances and networking," explains Keller Hayes, president of the Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce. Similar concerns were also behind the creation of the Women's Chamber of Commerce of Texas in 1989.
In addition to providing support for women entrepreneurs, the chambers offer workshops, seminars and other educational activities. They also act as advocates for women in business, addressing issues such as the inadequacy of procurement dollars given to female-owned firms, the glass ceiling and access to capital.
"In Texas, the HUB [Historically Underutilized Business] program is a big issue, and in the last legislative session, there was a bill to essentially eliminate it," says Rose Batson, president of the Texas chamber. By partnering with the state minority chambers of commerce, Batson's group helped save the program.
Although there are currently only a few women's chambers of commerce nationwide, Hayes believes as long as there is increased interest in doing business with women, the number of chambers will grow.
The other women's chambers in the United States are:
- Women's Chamber of Commerce, Kansas City, Kansas, (913) 371-3070
- San Antonio Women's Chamber of Commerce, (210) 299-2636
- Southern Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce, (719) 442-2007
- Women's Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Louisville, Kentucky, (502) 584-6265.
Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce, 13949 W. Colfax Ave., Bldg. 1, #107, Golden, CO 80401, http://www.cwcc.org
Colt Safety Inc., (800) 475-2222, http://www.coltsafety.com
Women's Chamber of Commerce of Texas, P.O. Box 26051, Austin, TX 78755, http://www.web4front.com/wcct