I was 8 months pregnant, attending a career fair at a local university with my husband and some family. Everyone else was there actively looking for jobs — I was just along for the ride, the company, and the lunch we would have together afterward. I was freelance writing at the time, and planned to continue doing so after having our baby. But, while I was there, I thought, why not just have a look around at the companies and the positions they had open? My sister-in-law, who wasn’t actively job searching either, decided to join me, because it could be fun, and a little networking never hurt anyone. We stopped by a few booths and chatted with representatives about their businesses and open positions. As I expected, I got some funny looks for walking around a job fair when I was clearly ready to pop. But nothing overtly rude.
Except at one booth. We were honestly curious about what this particular company was all about, so we approached the representative there. She smiled and asked when my baby was due, then made some cordial small talk about her own experience as a mom years ago. As the chit chat fizzled and we opened our mouths to ask about the company, this woman deliberately turned away from us and started a conversation with some other job seekers nearby. And she didn’t hesitate to talk business with them.
The fact that neither of us were in desperate need of jobs did lessen the sting a little. But what if I actually had been in dire need of work at the time? She didn’t know. What if I was exactly the candidate she was looking for, with all the right skills and experience, and she would only need to accommodate a few weeks of maternity leave, before being provided some of the best work she had ever seen? But it was clear that, because of my stage in life at the moment, she simply couldn’t waste her time to even introduce her company to me.
Unfortunately, this kind of discrimination against parents in the business world is all too common. I saw a story on LinkedIn recently about a company’s manager out to lunch with his friend. He discussed his frustration at needing to hire a replacement for an employee who was leaving the organization to have a baby and be a stay-at-home mom. “I should’ve known,” he said. “When I hired her two years ago, she had just gotten married. I should’ve seen this coming. I never should have hired her in the first place.” His friend commented that someone’s potential resignation down the road should never be a reason to discount their candidacy. You should hire someone based on the talent, skills, and expertise they can bring to the position.
Alysia Montaño, an Olympic runner, was sponsored by Nike — the champions of “dreaming big.” But suddenly, when she brought up her dream to be a mother, their support for her waned. Montaño is just one example of the many female athletes who struggle to receive adequate support from sponsors during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery.
Contrast these examples with a viral LinkedIn post by Audrie Burkett of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. One day, her 1-year-old daughter was sick, rendering childcare out of the question for the day. But she had several work meetings she needed to attend. Unsure of what to do, she explained the predicament to her boss, Greg Wathen. Without hesitation, he told her to bring her daughter in to the office, and they would find a way for her to complete her work, while caring for her baby. She shared a picture of Wathen wheeling her daughter around in a stroller while she napped. The teams came together to care for the child so the work could still get done.
Burkett said, “We have a culture of understanding the importance of family and the struggles working moms can face because Greg has made these issues a priority… As we think about retaining talent, in my opinion there is no better way to show your team you care than by letting them make their family a priority. ” The organization is now in the process of talking with groups all over the country about “integrat[ing] family and talent into a more seamless type of work environment.”
The country seems to be plagued with this issue Emily Oster labels as “secret parenting.” It’s no secret that the U.S. could use more accommodating family leave policies. But the problem doesn’t end there. So many of the country’s parents — especially mothers — feel the need to hide the fact that they have children, or downplay the importance of family in their lives, so as to be taken seriously as a professional. So many workers feel as though appearing to prioritize family above work will sabotage their workplace reputation and opportunities.
The problem is silently pervasive. It’s time to start talking about it. The best place to begin to solve a problem is awareness. Oster reminds us, “We can’t fix problems we pretend don’t exist.” So, now that we’ve analyzed the issue, let’s talk about solutions.
Individual Changes You Can Make:
Don’t parent secretly. Have pictures of your family up in your office. Speak up about why you need to leave at 5 to have dinner with your family, or why you need to take a sick day — not for you, but to care for your sick child. Be honest about your life as a parent and your family’s needs.
Do your research before jumping into a company. If a balance between family life and work life is important to you, actively seek out information about the organization you’re considering to make sure they’ll support the lifestyle you’re hoping for.
Organizational Changes a Leader Can Make:
Offer paid family leave. Business News Daily informs us that “The United States is the only developed country that does not offer paid parental leave.” Dang. That’s a problem. If you can find it in your heart and in your budget to offer this, do it. It will make a huge difference. Your employees will thank you, and you’ll retain the incredible talent you need on your team.
Provide child care assistance. This might come in the form of offering onsite child care facilities, paying for a portion of child care expenses, forming partnerships with local daycares to provide discounts to your employees, or simply (at least) providing employees with resources and information on local daycares, prices, etc. to get them started.
Be generous with benefits. As generous as you can, because families need them.
Reward employees with bonuses when possible. This recognizes them and shows your gratitude for their special efforts. It also motivates employees to continue to produce exceptional results.
Plan activities and events for employees to bring their families to. This creates a sense of community amongst coworkers, and provides employees with more family time.
Be flexible with work time and location. Assess employees’ job descriptions and see if you can give them any more flexibility. Some jobs allow workers to work whenever they can find the time, as long as the work gets done. Other positions may allow for remote work some or all of the time. See what you can open up for your employees so they can spend more time with their families.
Foster an open environment that encourages employees to approach management with their unique needs. Try to be open and accommodate them in whatever ways you can.
When it comes down to it, family is the reason many of us are at work in the first place (not to escape them — to provide for them). So shouldn’t we make them a priority? Show care for employees’ families, and they’ll want to stay with you. Talk about your family at work, and maybe you’ll start some conversations that need to be had. For the vast majority of the workforce, family is the most important thing. So let’s create workplaces that reflect and respect that. As Eric Arnold, the CEO of Planswell, said, “We don’t succeed despite our families. We succeed because of them.”
Originally published at https://tiffanyparkwriting.com on July 29, 2019.