A Patagonia store is among the several shops catering to outdoor enthusiasts in Telluride, Colorado.
Robert Alexander—Getty Images

America’s parental leave and childcare policies set it apart from the rest of the world … and not in a good way. Only 12 percent of American workers have access to paid leave through work, according to the Department of Labor, and the average cost of childcare is more expensive than in-state college tuition. One company, however, is breaking the mold and providing its employees with parental leave and childcare options that help working parents balance career and family.

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and gear company, offers its employees on-site childcare. If that sounds like a headline-grabbing new perk, the kind of thing Netflix or Facebook would roll out to attract talent, keep this in mind: the company has been offering it for 33 years now.

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The on-site childcare is exactly what you’d imagine for a progressive, employee-centric, and eco-conscious company such as Patagonia — a.k.a., a dream come true. The childcare center, aptly named The Edenic Center, “is staffed by teachers, who […] encourage children to spend a lot of time outside,” reports Slate.

The best part is parents can “eat lunch with their kids, take them to the farmer’s market or pick vegetables with them in the ‘secret’ garden,” says Jenny Anderson in her Quartz article. And, get this: For school-aged kids, Patagonia buses them back to the company’s headquarters so employees don’t have to hassle with school pickups. The company’s head of venture funding, Phil Graves, puts it best: “It lets you be the kind of parent you want to be.”

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Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, started the company’s on-site childcare program back in 1983 “not to fix a problem, but to respond to what humans need,” Anderson writes. Therefore, he created a workplace that supported his employees before, during, and after they started families — and, by golly, it worked!

Take a guess at how many women who work at Patagonia have returned to their jobs after having children in the last five years. If you guessed 100 percent, then you’re probably a Patagonia employee. What’s more, 50 percent of the company’s managers are women, and 50 percent are senior leaders, so it goes to show that supporting working mothers (and fathers, for that matter) has a substantial return on investment in the end … now, if only all American companies could follow suit.

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Unfortunately, starting a family is often deemed a personal choice with which employers needn’t concern themselves, unless it starts getting in the way of an employee’s work. Without reasonable parental leave and affordable childcare options, it’s hard for working parents to make a living and maintain a decent level of work-life balance. Thankfully, it looks like things are starting to look up for working parents as more employers are jumping on the bandwagon and offering more substantial paid parental leave benefits.

Hopefully, companies will start to see the value in encouraging and supporting employees who are parents, rather than making them choose between their careers and their families.

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