Working Mom's Exchange Network

In the late 1980s, shortly after Betsy Holden had her first child, she and about 20 other working mothers at Kraft came together to address the issues of balancing career and family. At the time there were few role models. "We really didn't have people in front of us," Holden recalls, "and we were all dealing with the challenges of working and children."

They set up a support group, the Working Moms Exchange Network, that met regularly over lunch. Each member would take a topic, become "an expert" on it and share the information with the group. An attorney provided guidance on how to rewrite a will following the birth of children. One member discussed aspects of financial planning, including how to start saving for a child's college education. Another researched all the preschools on Chicago's North Shore and gave an assessment of the schools and covered such issues as the difference between Montessori and traditional programs. Holden, the former teacher, presented ideas on educational activities to do with kids "after work, when you're dead tired," she says. "It was about how you truly create quality time sort of anytime, anywhere."

Mary Kay Haben, a Kraft executive, helped Holden form the group. "Betsy and I felt we had learned the hard way ourselves on some of these issues. The goal was to make people's lives easier. It was helpful to have that kind of knowledge right at your fingertips. We didn't want to see good women leave because they were overwhelmed by work and home issues."

Holden says of the program, "It was a fabulous way of helping each other on that side of our lives at the same time we were supporting each other on career issues."

Over time, Haben says, the group evolved into the Parents Network because "so many dads wanted in!"

Today the network relies on the voice mail system. Women can call and ask for help on any issue and have access to expertise from about 150 female employees at Kraft on anything from babysitters to stroller loans.

Building on the experience of that support group, Holden later sponsored a company task force on work/life balance that led to changes in the company's policies on sick time and flexible work arrangements. Her efforts have helped make Kraft a recognized industry leader in providing programs that balance work and family life issues. -- T.S.