US public policy and business practices do an abysmal job of taking care of employees who become parents and helping them take care of their families. Out of 41 countries surveyed by the OECD, the U.S. is the only one that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents. That suggests just how far we have to go — so the sooner we start, the better.
As we do, we could take notes on Patagonia’s successful approach. For American workers accustomed to this nation’s sink-or-swim stance towards employees with kids, Patagonia’s parent-friendly policies sound almost utopian (Quartz). The firm provides generous leaves and offers daycare that’s high-quality, convenient, and subsidized (though not free). The policy is intended “not to fix a problem, but to respond to what humans need.”
Patagonia wants you to stop buying its clothes. That’s the message it conveyed in a New York Times full-page ad in 2011, taking the opportunity to remind consumers of the environmental cost of “everything we make.” It’s not a typical advertisement, but Patagonia is not a typical company.
Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, got his start in business by pursuing what he loved — climbing. Not satisfied with the metal spikes used for climbing, Chouinard began making reusable pitons after teaching himself blacksmithing. It turned into a business: Chouinard Equipment. He continued climbing with his business partners and came back from adventures with ideas on how to improve the company’s product, but they eventually realized the product was the problem. Continually hammering pitons into the walls of Yosemite had disfigured it, so they invented something more sustainable, something better: the aluminum chock. It was a good business move that also happened to be good for the environment.
Chouinard kept climbing. Patagonia, his next venture, started nearly by accident when Chouinard bought a rugby shirt. Overbuilt to withstand the rigors of the game, it made for perfect climbing gear. As with his piton, friends wanted one as well. Clothing became an opportunity to support the “marginally profitable” hardware business, but it also became a platform for a new way to do business.