by Sharon Florentine

Why a parent-friendly culture benefits your entire workforce

Mar 23, 2018
CareersIT Leadership

A flexible culture focused on “outcomes, not hours” can boost participation in the workforce and keep employees engaged and loyal – even if they’re not parents.

multi tasking project management to do list busy mom
Credit: Thinkstock

I am not a morning person. I never have been. Most days, though, I drag myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to get a jump-start on my to-do list before my 7-year-old wakes up. After I let the dog out and start the coffee, I sit down and answer e-mail, write out my daily task list and scroll through Facebook as I wake up.

By the time my husband and son get up, I’m ready to roll. Then it’s time to get  everyone ready to leave, take a quick shower, do school drop-off, walk the dog and, finally, by 9:30 a.m., I’m ready to get to work in earnest. Staff meetings, training, source interviews, writing, revising and more e-mail takes up the precious few hours I have to myself before it’s time to do everything in reverse: school pickup, homework, dinner, etc. By 8:30 p.m., I’m exhausted, but it’s time to log in for my ‘second shift’ answering yet more e-mail and planning for the next day. Then I collapse into bed and try to sleep.

It’s easily a 14-hour day, at least five days a week, and that’s on a day when everything goes as planned. This winter, it seems I’m destined to be behind: colds, the flu, ear infections, snowstorms, school closings and power outages … yeah. That requires a lot of flexibility, improvisation and a whole lot of late nights that bleed into the wee hours, but I make it work.

And I’m lucky. I work from home and I can arrange my schedule to accommodate my home and family life. I also know I’m not alone. BLS data from 2016 shows that 64.7 percent of moms with children under six years old participated in the labor force. My workload isn’t uncommon, either; according to a recently released study by Welch’s that surveyed 2,000 American moms of kids between five and twelve years old, moms work, on average, 98 hours per week. As in, the equivalent of two-and-a-half full-time jobs.

Like I said, I’m lucky. Elizabeth Friedland is, too. One day, Elizabeth’s childcare fell through at the last minute. Unable to find a substitute babysitter in time, Elizabeth, senior director of corporate communications at Appirio, brought her then 4 month-old foster son to the office. At first, she was nervous about how her colleagues would react, but she was pleasantly surprised. Her coworkers not only lined up to help feed and watch the baby while Elizabeth led meetings, but her boss even praised her bring-the-baby-to-work move as one that showed dedication to both parenthood and her career.

“We look at this under the umbrella of ‘employee experience,’ and we measure that,” Friedland tells me. “It’s one of those fluffy, happy metrics, sure, but it really makes a difference! If our people are happy and they feel valued and supported, they’re going to stay with us. They stay with us, and we grow with them to accommodate all aspects of their lives, not just parenthood — it’s taking an hour for a doctor’s appointment, or to take care of whatever you need to take care of without worrying that you’re going to jeopardize your career,” she says.

Elizabeth and I both work in parent-friendly cultures. Our bosses get it. They understand that work-life balance isn’t just possible, it’s preferable; valuing workers and offering flexibility means loyal, harder-working, more engaged employees overall. They leverage technology to make working remotely not just possible, but effective, efficient and productive.

And if companies really want to maintain a competitive edge and further stimulate the economy, they need to get more women in the workforce by offering flexible policies that help working women, as this Fast Company article explains. A recent study by Citi outlines the differences between approaches in Canada and the U.S. to encouraging women’s participation in the workplace and the effects of those policies on the economy.

“American women, especially those tasked with caring for children or elderly relatives, confront sizable barriers to full participation in the workforce. Beyond the tax penalties second earners often face (also known as the “marriage penalty”), the high cost of childcare and unstable working conditions keep many women sidelined,” the article says.

“Especially among the low-wage sectors, a lot of the work is part-time and uncertain,” [Dana] Peterson [Citi North America economist and co-author of the report] says. “You don’t know what your hours might be from week to week. For many women, facing a choice between having very erratic working hours and income, and caring for a child or a dependent adult, they make the choice to not work.”

Overcoming these problems isn’t simply a “women’s issue,” says [Tina] Fordham, [Citi’s policital analyst and co-author of the report] “but a challenge for the workforce as a whole. “The key is to frame this issue as gender neutral. Things like flexible work schedules, parental leave, the ability to get back into the workforce after taking some time off, these are all things men want as well, especially younger men,” she says. “It’s an argument for making it easier for people of childbearing age to be successful in the workforce,” the article says.

That means not just flexibility and remote work, family leave and re-entry programs but policies that address sexual harassment, discrimination and oppression. This is especially in technology, which is already notable for the lack of women and minorities and the sometimes hostile culture that exists in STEM fields.

It comes down to understanding that your employees are human beings with lives outside of the office and making space and time for them to attend to that as well as performing well at work, says Friedland. It’s about what you value as a company, and recognizing that without your employees, you wouldn’t be successful at all.

“It’s not about who’s the last one to leave, anymore, it’s about what you value,” Friedland says. “We always say our focus is on ‘outcomes, not hours,’ because at the end of the day, if you’re getting your work done and it’s done well, it doesn’t matter where you do it from,” she says.