SEI didn't wait for laws to change before helping employees

Company employee benefits often seem standard - paid time off, health insurance and a matching contribution to a 401(K).

But at SEI, an Oaks-based international financial services provider, the leadership team goes above and beyond to create a welcoming workplace for employees and their families.

How far beyond?

The company provides medical and dental benefits for same sex partners - expensive insurance not required by Pennsylvania law, which does not legally recognize gay partnerships - and has done so for more than a decade.

And for 16 years, new moms returning to work are not only given the option to breastfeed, the company tries to make them comfortable by providing equipment, privacy and time off.

"What's great about SEI is that you can feel our culture," said Colleen Stratton, the head of workforce development at SEI, who describes it as "open, innovative, collaborative and caring."

Stratton said the company looks to its employees to learn what benefits can help them. "We want to be innovative to what we can offer our employees at all stages during their lives," she said.

Since 2003, SEI has covered domestic partners, including same-sex partners, as eligible dependents for the medical and dental plans. At the beginning of this year, SEI also began covering same-sex spouses of employees with marriages performed in states where such marriages are legal.

"The benefits at SEI are meant to keep our employees healthy and help them maintain a work-life balance. It's important that our employees know that they and their families can get the care they need," said Alfred P. West Jr., SEI's chairman and chief executive officer.

For instance, its Nursing Mothers Program provides breast pumps, a kit to use with the pump, a separate refrigerator for milk storage, a private nursing room, personal locker, a lactation consultant and time to pump.

The quiet and accommodating nursing room with four semi-private cubicles is located in SEI's Family Center, a back-up daycare center for 40 days each year for full-time employees with children ages 12 and under. Each cubicle comes equipped with a cushy leather chair, pumping machine, magazines, and a clock to keep track of time.

In addition to the nursing room, a lactation consultant calls them once before the child is born and four times post-delivery within the first month. The consultant also meets each nursing mom in the Family Center to teach them how to pump and store milk, then follows up with four calls within the first four months of the employee's return to work.

New mothers can also take advantage of the Good Start Care Program, which offers four weeks of on-site infant daycare to ease the transition back to work.

Amy Sitnick, a network advisor at SEI, said the benefits offered to new mothers really drew her into joining the company more than six years ago. She utilized the Good Start Care Program and Nursing Mothers Program when she returned to work after the birth of her second child, Charlie, now 2.

"It's a company with its heart in the right place...." Sitnick said. "It was amazing knowing that you can go up to see your baby. I could put him to sleep or give him snuggles."