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MBA Student’s Research Lands in Sloan Management Review

New Mom Teri Leavens Looks at How Companies Can Attract, Retain Working Parents

A woman in glasses smiles while folding her arms outside Photo by courtesy
MBA student Teri Leavens, a senior manager at Goodwill Industries International, says her research shows that working parents value community connectedness - something that companies should keep in mind when deciding where to locate.

08/25/2021
By Ed Brennen

One reason why Teri Leavens chose to pursue her MBA online from UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business was the opportunity to conduct research.

“I knew I wanted to do an independent research project, to gain skills around qualitative analysis and statistical analysis, and I was really intrigued by the research I found from the business professors,” says Leavens, who lives in Philadelphia and is a senior manager at Goodwill Industries International.

Since starting the managerial leadership track of the MBA program in July 2020, Leavens has done more than conduct research — she was the lead author of an article that was recently published in MIT’s Sloan Management Review.

In “The New Strategic Road Map for Attracting and Retaining Working Parents,” Leavens and three co-authors from the Management Department — Prof. Kimberly Merriman, Asst. Prof. Tamara Montag-Smit and Ph.D. candidate David Greenway — examine how the pandemic has made moms and dads reexamine their priorities when it comes to where they work and raise their families. The article also makes five recommendations to companies on how to recruit and retain working parents.

“Working parents are a priority population for a lot of companies,” Leavens says, “so how can we help companies support them, particularly knowing the struggles that so many of them have had to endure during the pandemic?”

Leavens joined the research team last spring as an independent study class with Merriman. The team was looking at why people chose to relocate during the pandemic by analyzing data gathered from a business and technology newsletter survey. Of the nearly 3,000 respondents, nearly half were either planning to relocate during the pandemic or had recently done so.

Leavens, who became a new mom this summer, was particularly interested in the motivations of working parents. So of the 1,618 survey respondents who were not going to move, she analyzed a subset of 150 parents. She says the data revealed two main reasons for staying put: connections to the community (i.e. staying close to family and friends) and lifestyle qualities such as good schools, low crime and lower cost of living.
“To have an industry publication that I’m able to talk about professionally is amazing.” -MBA student Teri Leavens

“It was actually really educational for me, becoming a new parent, to understand the problem-solving and thinking that parents go through when weighing work-life and family decisions,” she says.

Based on their findings, Leavens and her co-authors recommended that companies consider working parents’ preferences when relocating or expanding their brick-and-mortar locations in a post-pandemic world.

“Community is an integral part of working parents’ lives, and companies need to take that into consideration when making strategic business decisions,” she says.

For parents who want to work remotely or don’t want to relocate for their jobs, the authors suggested that companies embrace the flexibility of decentralized, shared working spaces outside of their headquarter city. They noted that Deloitte, for instance, recently leased WeWork office space for employees.

They also recommended that companies take steps to ensure remote workers feel part of the organization (by creating a “community integrator” position, for instance) and are not shut out of career advancement opportunities. 

“The pandemic has proven to companies that workers can work remotely and do that productively,” says Leavens, who was working remotely for Goodwill Industries even before the pandemic.

As senior manager in the Transformation Management Office, Leavens is helping to implement Goodwill’s latest strategic plan across its North American network of 156 independent offices.

“I decided to get my MBA to hone my financial skills and really be able to speak the business language,” says Leavens, who holds a master’s degree in global marketing, communication and advertising from Emerson College in Boston and a bachelor’s degree in communication from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Merriman says Leavens is “a role model for what our stellar MBA students are achieving in collaboration with faculty.”

Leavens, who has yet to meet her co-authors in person, says seeing her independent study work become a published article in Sloan Management Review “far exceeded my expectations.”
 
“To have an industry publication that I’m able to talk about professionally is amazing,” she says. “And it’s thrilling to work on a topic that is so timely and relevant, because these are the discussions that companies are having in boardrooms right now.”