Case Study Summary: Zoot Enterprises, Bozeman, MT

Zoot EnterprisesBozeman, MT

This leader in the financial tech industry brought their visionary spirit to the early childhood care sector, forming an in-house option for daycare. Zoot recognized that parents were forced to take time off work in the early years of their children’s lives, due to the high cost, lack of access, and inconvenience of early childhood care, and formed ZALA; the Zoot Adventure Learning Academy, for children ages 3 months to 6 years.

By giving their workers a dedicated, quality childcare center as part of the company campus, Zoot made an investment in their employees which has been recognized as admirable, effective, and even revolutionary by the Bozeman community at large.

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Zoot Enterprises, a software company in Bozeman, Montana, is pioneering in-house care for their employees’ children. ZALA, the Zoot Adventure Learning Academy, is the brainchild of Rebekah Nelson, Zoot’s Director of Employee Benefits Outreach and the wife of CEO Chris Nelson. A few dozen infants and pre-kindergartners come to work with their parents each day, and spend office hours learning, exploring, napping, and more within the multi-acre Zoot campus and dedicated daycare wing. Rebekah Nelson answered a few questions about her work and vision.

Interview with Rebekah Nelson

Q: What motivated Zoot to begin this project?
A: Zoot has always been intentional about taking care of our employees – of our people. We’ve got a cafeteria, a gym, a dog-friendly environment… But in terms of childcare, something was missing. We wanted to keep our employees throughout their journey as parents, and providing quality, in-house early childhood care, filling that gap between birth and the start of kindergarten, was our way to show we cared. We did this because it was the right thing to do. For mothers and fathers to be able to visit with their young child during the day, it supports the parent-child relationship, allows them to better enjoy their work, and provides a sense of peace.

Quality early childhood care is expensive, and difficult to secure. Through ZALA, we’re hoping to save our employees the stress, hassle, and cost of the average daycare center, and improve their lives and work.

Q: What have been the responses of your employees? Of the community.
A: Our employees have been deeply appreciative of the flexibility ZALA has given their schedules as parents. Especially nursing moms, who can walk over to the daycare center for 15 minutes to nurse, and then pop back into a meeting, rather than driving miles to try to nurse during their lunch hour. ZALA also offers daycare for school-aged children on the occasional weekdays when the Bozeman public schools are closed, meaning working parents no longer have to take those days off work, or arrange daytime babysitters. All of this supports our employees, takes care of them. The need for childcare is personal, and we believe people deserve compassionate, personalized childcare support in the workplace.

The community response has been hugely positive–people love the concept, and the daycare itself. There are many people who ask to send their children here, even though they’re not Zoot employees; but for now, ZALA is not available for the general public.

Q: What do services like these mean for working mothers?
A: I took ten years off work to take care of my own children, and then what could I put on my resume? It’s so important for women, in particular, to return to — and to retain — their executive positions. We’re providing the means for them to raise a child while continuing to pursue their career.

We’ve received a lot of organizational support from Patagonia; they pioneered a similar program 36 years ago, which has fostered a 100% return rate for their female employees. It’s not about forcing people to be in the workforce, but it’s about giving them the option to do so.

Q: Do you find an altruistic investment like high-quality, on-site childcare has an impact on the company’s bottom line, for better or for worse?
Business-wise, ZALA isn’t highly profitable. Zoot covers our operational costs. But there are significant benefits for Zoot, including gender equality in executive positions and better employee retention. In addition, we offer competitive salaries for our teachers and care providers, so we’re attracting talent in the field.

Q: Do you have advice for other businesses looking to get involved in early childcare?
We’ve hit a lot of roadblocks. But the best thing to remember is you’re working toward something good, something important. Push through that red tape. Work with passionate people– it’s passion that will make a project like this successful. And understand that it might cost you, at first; it’s an investment in your employees, an altruistic concept. You’re doing this because you care about your employees, about your people.

That said, the state’s current red tape makes this complicated. The more well-established businesses on board, who are willing to partner with the state and on another, the more we can all accomplish.