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How can Companies be an Ally to Parents?

Parents need workplace allies. Jenya Peterson

Current state: Before the Pandemic, working parents already felt the pressures of balancing career and family responsibilities. Last year put a laser focus on the vulnerability of a professional with caregiving responsibilities. Moving forward requires a rethinking and complete overhaul of the policies, benefits, ways of working, and cultural norms to have a shot at equal opportunities and an inclusive environment. 

By the numbers: 32% of the workforce have children, according to Brookings analysis.  A 2020 Catalyst survey revealed that “Both mothers and fathers feel that being a parent is a strike against them in the workplace during the pandemic.” 

What it means: With a third of the workforce facing childcare and remote schooling difficulties, the problem is vast and impacts most industries and organizations. To keep working parents engaged, productive and ensure a diverse and inclusive environment, companies have to brainstorm and find creative solutions to be an Ally to the employee with caregiving responsibilities. 

The successful solution has two components:

  • “Workplace Allies” –  people who are willing to personally align themselves with colleagues to make sure they’re heard and included.
  • “Leadership Allies” – people who are willing to personally align themselves with colleagues to make sure they’re heard, included, upskilled, reskilled, and given career opportunities.

The concept of Workplace Allies relies on individuals to showcase: 

  • Relaxed schedule & Clear Communication: Managers setting flex hours, planning for shorter meetings, and including breaks between meetings will be greatly appreciated by working parents. Mindfulness about zoom fatigue, and being smart with video requirements are simple practices that can go a long way. The downside of flexibility is calling for everyone to be constantly “on” to respond to information coming outside of work hours. According to HBR the solution lies with clear guidelines for communication channels –  text or phone call will prompt reaction and emails are used for nonurgent items. 
  • Openness & Encouragement: Be prepared for an interruption from a family member and occasional background noise. “Just be chill. Don’t be bothered by other people’s kids showing up in the call. They are part of your colleagues’ lifestyle. And they are not there to disturb you. They live with you coworker, so they are not a sign of lack of professionalism. Just ignore them and move on with the topic of the conference call” says Samer Hijazi, Engineering Director at Cisco
  • Inclusivity: Every week along with professional wins and progress include a personal update – a brief story of the child’s trophy or school competition. Chad Peterson, Controller of Highline Storage Partners shares “To begin each weekly and quarterly leadership meeting, all participants highlight one piece of good news on work and personal fronts. This adds a dose of humanity to the meetings, creates connection amongst the team, and kicks the meetings off with a consistently positive start.”

Leadership Allies focus on the following:

  • Active listening – “I’ve gone through countless training on implicit bias, prejudice, and discrimination at the workplace. However none of the companies I worked for prepared me to listen and understand the needs of working parents. In order to create an all-inclusive culture, we must actively listen. We need managers that are able to empathize, connect to employees or share similar experiences. As people leaders most of all we need to create a safe and supportive environment without a place of judgment and to promote a welcoming parent culture.” – emphasizes Margarita Fjeseth, Category controller of a national food manufacturer.
  • Recognition and celebration of the unique skills and perspectives that working parents bring. “When I became a mother, I also became a much better boss. We focus on helping mothers with flexibility in the workplace, but we should also be recognizing the extraordinary value they bring to the table.” – points Anne Bailey, Director, Specialty Product Management and Marketing at Novelis
  • Childcare benefits offered onsite or on-demand in light of virtual schooling and spontaneous quarantine periods. According to Indeed average compensation of a warehouse worker is $12.92 an hour, which is barely above the average rate for childcare $11.65 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Simple policies can fundamentally improve the productivity and life quality of working parents. On-site daycare or after-school programs for the parents who have to be in the office for any reason.” points Samer Hijazi. 
  • Offer equal career opportunities based on potential and skills and stop the spread of fear. According to Catalyst “layoffs and furloughs are still primary concerns for many parents, who believe it is a risk to take advantage of the childcare benefits their employer offers”. Emphasis on the training of the hiring managers and the expansion of the employee’s skill set will play a key role to maintain the shrinking workforce comprised of those with caregiving responsibilities. Challenge assumptions and biases and trust employees. Based on Qualtrics study, fathers three times as likely as mothers to receive a promotion while working from home. 
  • Psychological Safety, Active Listening and Real Life Solutions are needed. “Creating routine and calm in the home compensates for the uncertainly outside the home,” says Alisa Barber, VP of Marketing, Verint. “In today’s pandemic world, balancing work and parenting is not easy. Sometimes making it to dinner is more important than making the next career move. For employees to do their best work, managers need to provide more flexibility, support and empathy than ever before. Managers need to really listen so employees feel comfortable sharing struggles so real solutions to day-to-day challenges can be found.”

The impact: Working parents leaving the workforce is a multi Billion dollar problem according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce – “The challenges we face are persistent and complex but solvable. And the business community must be part of that solution.”

The Bottom Line: Empathy, compassion, and policies oriented towards an inclusive and collaborative environment surrounding a working parent are a must to ensure the engagement and transition to the new era of work.

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