A fine balance
The year 1969 was a year of many firsts. A rock concert attracted some 350,000 people. The Concorde took flight. Astronauts landed on the moon. Yet on the domestic front, eyebrows raised and lips pursed when a college-educated woman gave birth and returned to work.
"My parents were quite upset," recalled Betty Purkey, who as a 25-year-old Texas Instruments (TI) software developer became a working mom for the first time that year.
Forty years later, TI credits Purkey for implementing one of the most comprehensive work-life programs in any Fortune 500 company. Her contributions helped shape TI as a workplace that supports working parents, encourages diversity, and allows individuals to chart their own career path.
"Work-life issues have always been a passion of mine," Purkey said. "I lived it. But when you get right down to it," she added, "anybody who is working and has a life outside of work is both an expert and passionate about this topic."
Purkey retired in early 2009, but the culture she helped create will live on.
After graduating from college, Purkey joined TI's research department in 1966. She was among a handful of women in technical jobs.
"We got really excited when we went to a meeting and saw each other," she remembered. "We would say, 'Yay! Another woman!'"
She started a family, returned to TI, and worked as project manager and total quality coordinator within the company's design automation division.
Then, in the late 1980s, a treatise on the changing population, "Workforce 2000," caught the attention of then-CEO Jerry Junkins. The book predicted the increase of women and minorities in the workplace. Junkins thought TI should take a proactive approach to diversity, and Purkey joined a volunteer committee to study women's workplace issues.
"It's a sensible thing to focus on," Purkey said. "You want people to be successful regardless of gender, ethnicity or personality. Diversity also inspires creativity and better decisions."
But other companies resisted, believing that work-life balance programs would cost money and hurt productivity.
"At the time, people thought of it as a woman's issue, that related programs would be costly to implement," Purkey recalled, "and it scared companies."
In 1994, Purkey was named TI work-life strategies manager and kicked off two programs that were neither expensive nor time-consuming.
Programs and progress
TI's first work-life program was a resource and referral service. A vendor offered information on topics such as parenting, elder care and work-life balance as well as referrals to quality child- and elder-care providers in North Texas.
Next, TI focused on flexible work options such as part time and flextime. As employees installed DOS-based home computers and sent missives through the telephone, TI began piloting telecommuting programs.
From there, the company joined a consortium of businesses to increase the quality and quantity of community child care and elder care.
Initially, Purkey's job was supposed to last just one year. But the more programs she developed, the more other needs emerged. Paid paternity leave. TI-sponsored summer camps. Adoption assistance. College coaching. Even a concierge service.
"We evolved over the years in response to what was happening in the culture and in the company," said Purkey, who ran the operation for 14 years.
Purkey hesitated to solely credit TI's work-life programs with improving company morale or affecting its recruitment or retention rate. "I know our culture has changed, but it is hard to measure," she said. Still, the impressions our programs have made are undeniable:
- Fortune magazine has included TI on its "100 Best Companies to Work For" for nine years.
- TI has been on Working Mother magazine's list of Top 100 Companies for 13 consecutive years.
- IEEE Women in Engineering magazine named TI in its inaugural list of "Top 10 Best Companies for Women to Work" in 2008.
- Despite the continuing shortage of women entering the semiconductor industry, 26.5 percent of TI's salaried new hires were women and 27 percent of company officers are women.
- The Society of Women Engineers honored Purkey in 2007 with its Work-Life Balance Award.
None of TI's commitment to diversity and work-life effectiveness would have been possible without leadership support.
"TI has always had a concern for the employee," Purkey said. "Also, there's a curiosity that goes along with technology and engineering. We are always looking for ways to improve."