The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago earned a spot on Working Mother magazine’s 2018 100 Best Companies list for its benefits and policies that support working families.
Kandie Alter, Assistant Vice President in the bank’s Payments Policy Group, was also highlighted in the magazine. In addition to being a bank leader and working mom, Kandie supports urban schools in her Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, a diverse community and destination for new immigrants and refugees, with public schools serving a high proportion of English language learners and low-income children. She shares how the bank supports her work, family and community activities.
- How does the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago provide flexibility to balance work, family and volunteering?
My work is driven by a lot of deadlines and quick turn-arounds on research, presentations, briefings, and a lot of meetings — things I don’t always have control over or flexibility to change, so it can be a challenge. But my leadership team and peers are all over the country and we have good tools that make working anywhere as seamless as sitting next to each other in an office. But probably more importantly, is a shared understanding that the work day isn’t always a typical 9-5 experience. That’s not to say there’s an expectation we work night and day (though that can sometimes happen), but I thrive on having a job that’s challenging where people rely upon me so I have an office in place at home and frequently do some of my best work in early morning hours or at night. So if I have to be at a local school council meeting during the work day, or dash out to attend a board of education meeting, I don’t feel any guilt or judgment. I’m hyper-sensitive to deadlines and have developed a process and cadence that keeps me focused. My boss knows me and knows my volunteer work fills me and helps me grow as a thinker and a leader. She’s very encouraging!
- Which Bank benefits do you value most and most support work-life balance? I could list a number of great benefits, but honestly what I value most is a culture and colleagues who honor family and set the example every day. If someone has a sick child or family member, or suffers a catastrophe, or if their kid’s baseball team goes to state, I see people jump in to care, help, encourage, and share in the joy. I have immense respect and gratitude for that.
- How has your involvement in your neighborhood school shaped you as a leader, and how does your professional experience support your community efforts? Like my work at the bank, my work in my community is really collaborative and I work side-by-side with people who all want the same things: a safe community, a good education for our kids, economic well-being and security. Working in an organization like ours where we have good pay, benefits, and opportunities, it’s easy to become insulated from the realities of people who are challenged to address even the basic needs of their families, and how the deck can be stacked against our most vulnerable. Many moms balance multiple jobs and school commitments, and go without so their kids can go on field trips, celebrate special birthdays, or have new school clothes. Those are the moms of the year, in my view! There is no better training for a policy person than seeing, first hand, that there are people behind statistics, and understanding the forces that complicate fairness, equity, and good public policy. But I’ve also learned the power a few people can have when they rally a community and work together toward a common goal!
- As executive sponsor of the Chicago Fed’s family resource affinity group, how does the group help the organization engage families?
We have an intensely passionate and talented team who founded the Family Resource Group (FRoG). Ami Grandi, Vanessa Haleco, David Trotz, and Kyna Vernon are constantly coming up with new ideas in support of families and the variety of issues and situations employees may encounter in their families, however they choose to define them. We’ve hosted discussions on sandwich parenting, a growing trend in caring for both children and elders, and had presentations to highlight some of the lesser known benefits at the bank. Ahead we’ll be addressing topics like supporting a loved one through addiction, dealing with loss of a loved one, creative options for childcare, and navigating school options. We’re eager to hear from others what they’d like to see as well!
- What advice would you give a prospective employee about balancing a Fed career with family life? I just read a great article that summarizes a study of middle-class families and it struck a chord with me: and it’s all about chores. If you’re in a partnership and don’t have a good system for dividing and conquering, make that a priority. My husband has the bulk of childcare duties and is great at it, but I often find myself giving up my free time to ensure he gets a break. I’ve found that does no one any good. As mundane as it sounds, having a game plan for all household tasks that doesn’t require partners reminding each other what to do goes a long way in ensuring responsibilities and free time are balanced. And use those vacation days!