By David Kligman
SAN FRANCISCO — PG&E’s head of electric operations joined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today (March 28) to highlight the need for more affordable childcare like the utility’s landmark daycare center available for children of its working parents.
Geisha Williams, executive vice president of electric operations for PG&E, was among a panel of eight speakers at an event that included daycare operators, parents and childcare resource groups.
Pelosi said when people ask her the three most important issues facing Congress she responds, “Our children, our children, our children.” She said it’s also an economic investment.
“Nothing brings more money to the economy than the education of children — from the earliest childhood education to lifetime learning and everything in between,” Pelosi said.
When it came time for Williams to speak, she described PG&E’s successful year-round, full-time childcare program for employees who work at the utility’s downtown San Francisco headquarters.
First of its kind in Financial District
PG&E has operated the center through Bright Horizons for more than 20 years. The center, the first of its kind in San Francisco’s Financial District, is available for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. Shareholders pay half the cost of the childcare while employees whose children attend the center pay the other half.
Williams said it was an honor to be asked to showcase PG&E’s daycare center as something that other companies throughout the country could adapt.
She said the center provides peace of mind for employees, including those represented by a union, knowing their children are safe and being nurtured while they can focus on their jobs providing safe, reliable and affordable gas and electric service to customers.
“We all know that every mother is a working mother,” Williams told the gathering. “But those of us who have a job away from home have the added challenge of trying to balance their family life with their career. And simply put, when it comes to career and family, this is not an either-or proposition.”
Williams recently visited the center and was happy to see that PG&E’s daycare center allows parents to visit their children during breaks, which drew applause.
“Oh boy,” Pelosi said. “I like that!”
Powerful recruiting tool
The center also is a powerful tool for the company to attract and retain employees. PG&E’s goal is to increase its female workforce, which at 28 percent is higher than the average of other gas and electric utilities.
PG&E’s daycare center is something of a rarity, said Patty Siegel, founding director of the Children’s Council of San Francisco.
“PG&E is proudly singular,” Siegel told Currents following the event at a childcare center for low-income families in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. “Companies often say they want to do something like that but generally it just doesn’t happen.”
Williams said it was a bold decision for PG&E leaders to approve the opening of the childcare center in 1992. Now it stands as a model for what other companies could offer.
“Our leadership team knew then what it knows now,” she said. “And that is that it’s the absolute right thing to do. Our success depends on our employees, and our employees need access to top-flight childcare so they can have the peace of mind to enable them to do their jobs and go about the business of serving our customers day in and day out.”
Joining Williams at the event was Vanita Chhabra, PG&E’s director of business and workforce strategy for electric operations. Chhabra’s 4-year-old daughter Gia has attended the utility’s childcare center since she was 3 months old. Chhabra said having her daughter close by has allowed her to take part in events like a Halloween parade through the PG&E offices and even a stone soup lunch for parents.
When asked what the center is like, Chhabra’s answer was one word: “Amazing.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.