The working parent prototype
Bonnie Jones, 4 September, 2019
I am 10 days post-partum, silently cursing the old Bonnie for being so optimistic. If I was sure my pelvic floor could take it, I would have laughed (but I stifle it just to be sure). Why on earth did I agree to a work meeting this soon after birth? I can hardly sit, let alone string enough words together to form an adult-level conversation. I hike up my post-partum Spanx and push my shiny new pram over to the café table, trying to convince my client (and myself for that matter) that it’s socially acceptable in 2019 to bring a newborn to a work meeting.
But ... it's not. I was delusional to assume I could resume my old life with a baby in tow. It dawned on me that I am only one of the millions of new parents around the globe navigating this metamorphosis from working human to working parent; despite writing numerous Workplace Flexibility and Parental Leave Policies in my time, the weight of this dichotomy had only just found personal context.
Since this meeting, I have regained my cognitive strength and have a deep commitment to partner with small businesses and their new parents to spearhead this cultural change. Parents are juggling to balance their commitment to their employer and to their children; often taking a huge toll on mental wellbeing which in turn ruminates in the form of poor attendance, lower productivity, poor team connection and declining morale. While it is in all businesses best interests to address this challenge, small businesses certainly have a handicap; with small stature comes inherent agility.
I challenge all businesses to embed as many of the following actions into their people strategy to improve the transition for working parents. A positive shift will ultimately enhance your company identity, establish a living connection with your values, and profoundly strengthen engagement and wellbeing.
Disrupt all unconscious bias which infers that working parents are less valuable employees
- Seek grassroots consultation on what flexibility means to every employee and genuinely attempt to meet these needs.
- Encourage employee-led solutions such as peer mentoring groups for working parents or specific project groups addressing key strategies for flexibility.
- Challenge the executives and senior leaders to model what it looks like to value family. Surely the CFO wants to coach her daughter’s AFL team on a Tuesday afternoon!
Work with emerging parents to plan their parental leave well in advance of the baby’s arrival
- Appropriately cover a new parent while they are on leave.
- Encourage discourse on what flexibility looks like at all stages of their transition. Remember that flexibility is inherently non-static; the adjustments they may require for the first six months may look quite different to what is required once their child starts pre-school.
- Design policies and procedures that empower individual choice rather than a one-size approach.
Neutralise gender terminology in your company’s vernacular
- Revise your company’s tone of communication at all levels, and weave consistent messages into your recruitment strategy, onboarding program, and day-to-day policies and procedures.
- Encourage the gender-neutral communication to cascade from the boardroom down.
Consider how technology impacts a parent’s ability to separate work and home
- Technology is pivotal in enabling remote working and strengthening team relationships. However, it is important to reflect on the subliminal messaging around ‘always being available’ when your employees have a work phone, laptop, Slack Chat and integrated email access on their personal phone.
- Consider empowering each employee to choose the tools that they are comfortable embracing and proactively discuss how they have the potential to impact on family time.
- Use the delay function when sending non-critical emails outside of the employee’s working hours.
- Walk the talk by championing flexible working and try to shut off outside of work hours and on weekends so your team can see you embracing a life outside of work.
If we can make tiny incremental steps towards a more supportive and flexible transition for working parents, maybe babies in boardrooms won't be such a pipedream after all.