Jane Hobbs is Senior Vice President, Human Resources for Ciena, where she leads a global HR team in reinforcing strong company culture, creating and leading large-scale employee engagement and development programs, and implementing reward and talent management.

Every day seems to bring another announcement of a progressive new wellness, inclusion or diversity program from some of the most well known brands in the world, or at least a story or two about some new workplace “wows” from the latest crop of dynamic startups. Names like Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook dominate the large company landscape and share headlines with up-and-comers like Stripe, Slack, and Square. These companies either enjoy scale and meaningful cash flow or they make an outsized investment in such programs because they believe that building a game-changing company from the ground up requires a unique work environment and differentiated benefits. A belief that I share, by the way.

However, it isn’t often that you hear about a mid-sized company like Ciena sharing the Best Places to Work stage with this crew. Companies like ours are categorically considered to be too small to lead change, yet too big to redefine and refresh our corporate culture around progressive new ideas. But I disagree; mid-sized companies can absolutely be aggressive with employee programs without breaking the bank or seemingly trying to act younger than their age.

We just introduced a global family leave policy in the orbit of Microsoft, Google, and other leaders in the world of technology and more broadly across industries. From a high level, we significantly expanded our program, which now meaningfully exceeds prevailing industry practices in most corners of the globe. We increased maternity leave and included a phased-in return-to-work element. And, we extended benefits to include paternity, adoption, and caregiver leave. All 5,200 of our employees around the world can take advantage of these benefits—no restrictions or limitations.

We believe it was not only the right thing to do, but that we will see real ROI around this investment in our people. The most significant piece of that return will be an increasingly diverse and talented workforce, which is critical to our growth and continued competitive edge. Companies spend an inordinate amount of resources to attract and retain top talent, and benefits like these can often make the difference. And, there’s no reason mid-sized companies should be sitting on the sidelines.

Mid-sized companies can absolutely be aggressive with employee programs without breaking the bank or seemingly trying to act younger than their age.

- Jane Hobbs, SVP Human Resources

How’d we get it done? There were four key steps that any company could take:

  1. First, we were open-minded to the possibility that it could work. We looked at the practicalities of our business, ran the numbers, and determined the potential cost was far outweighed by the presumed benefit of a happier and more diverse, inclusive employee base. 
  2. In tandem, we had an open dialogue with our employees to understand what they value about working at Ciena and to get their input and ideas on family leave. We did not treat this as a unilateral decision made in a management vacuum.
  3. Throughout the process, we engaged with other companies that had implemented policies or were in the process of doing so to understand the realm of possibilities. This was tremendously helpful in shaping our program to be competitive and to fit our culture.
  4. Finally, we had the confidence to do it. Analysis and planning could go on forever, but at some point you have to acknowledge that it may not be possible to quantify the full value or cost in advance, embrace that you’re doing the right thing, and move forward.

In a world where industry lines blur more and more every day, the truth is we’re all competing with each other all of the time. If we believed that our competitive set for sales was our competitive set for talent, we would drastically limit our ability to succeed. For example, as often as we compete with Nokia for engineering talent, we similarly compete with Facebook and Microsoft for those same employees. Being able to stand toe-to-toe with these companies on benefits is key. At the same time, the business community shares some obligation (at least I hope we do) to make the world a better place. Inclusion and diversity are right-minded steps that should be encouraged in every workplace.

Mid-sized companies have no fewer opportunities than our large cap or start-up brethren to be competitive with employee programs. For us, it was both a business and moral imperative to take a closer look and ultimately move forward with our changes. Mid-sized companies, which are often subject to challenges wholly unique to their size and visibility, need not fall behind by thinking this is outside the scope of their ability. The most progressive benefits are not limited to just huge household names or catchy new start-ups.