HR Excellence: How BakerHostetler made life easier for the firm's young parents

Lin Rice
Whitney O'Malley

When Whitney O'Malley started working at BakerHostetler six years ago, very few young parents worked in the law firm's Columbus office. It's not unusual: Large law firms traditionally demand long hours and unpredictable schedules from employees to meet clients' needs. But when the firm experienced a baby boom in recent years, a need arose.

“Since I started at Baker, we have had a general maternity and parental program,” O'Malley says. “What we didn't have was some way to connect to people before, during and after the most transitional time in their lives.”

To address that, O'Malley devised and implemented an innovative parental outreach program for the Columbus office, which includes about 70 attorneys and more than 40 support staff. After surveying the firm's attorneys and staff, O'Malley proposed a two-pronged system. To encourage and congratulate new parents, gifts and well-wishes were planned throughout and after their pregnancy. Along with that, a mentorship program was created to help the new parent transition duties to team members and navigate issues like benefit changes and other paperwork.

O'Malley tried to be creative in choosing gift ideas for the program, including things like scheduling a family photo session two months after the baby's birth that exhausted new parents easily miss. “Having been through it myself (O'Malley has three children), I recognized the disconnect that people may feel when you are on leave,” she says. Creating touchpoints and giving gifts throughout someone's leave created a sense of connectedness that was missing. “Just knowing that your work family hasn't forgotten you and in fact is celebrating you, it's really a tremendous feeling,” O'Malley says.

The mentorship program works to support professional and personal needs, helping expectant parents connect with mentors. The firm makes a point of doing one simple act employers often neglect: They call the parent after the baby is born to let them know the firm is thinking of them and wishes them well. Twelve parents have gone through the program in its first year.

It's been a hit. The program received consistently positive feedback from mentors and mentees and helped to “create long-term discussion within BakerHostetler around maintaining its top-notch level of legal services to clients while also providing an environment where lawyers and staff thrive as parents and members of their communities,” the program's description states.

Along with the parental outreach program, O'Malley has implemented other programs to foster a healthy work culture at the firm, such as fundraising opportunities, volunteering programs and even office-wide cornhole tournaments. BakerHostetler administrator Allen Nederveld says O'Malley often thinks outside the box for new programs and incentives.

“Each year during the week when administrative professionals' day occurs, Whitney dreams up and implements a week-long celebration of the firm's staff with small events and gifts each day to demonstrate our appreciation for the great jobs they do,” Nederveld says. “The staff looks forward to it for the months before and talks about it for months after.”

O'Malley was pleased and surprised to earn recognition in the category of innovation. Creativity and persistence are her best motivators, she says.

“Innovating requires persistence. It's going to take time to brainstorm, create, garner feedback and then implement,” she says. “You can't be fearful that something you create will be rejected, because it's inevitable that will happen. You have to be resilient to not let the ‘nos' break your spirit.”

HR Innovation recognizes an individual or organization for successful implementation of a new idea that achieves proven results in compensation and benefits, employee recognition and retention, strategic alignment, succession planning, talent acquisition or assessment, use of technology or work-life balance.

Lin Rice is a freelance writer.

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