“I’m excited to work for parents again.”
I was stunned.
Picture the scene: a meeting with a client I’ve worked with for years. She had ascended to the heights of leadership at multiple industry-leading companies. Always with at least 2 executive search firms knocking at her door, she had recently made a move to a rapidly growing tech company. After 5 rounds of interviews and a Caliper assessment, she had landed in this fantastic role.
The challenge was appealing - she’s smart and she’s driven.
The prospect of being a part of an IPO? Compelling.
The salary and benefits package? Very nice, thank you.
But for her, another huge motivator for taking the role was working for parents again.
Let’s break this down.
At her previous three companies, all of which occupy spots on the “Best Places to Work” lists, none of the senior leaders she had worked with had had children. There are a lots of ways to interpret this of course, but a common thread persists: parenthood and career-ambition don’t always seem to go together. Not in traditional, corporate America that is.
But. They. Should.
And not just for human reasons, but for business ones, too.
Let’s get personal for a moment. Last week, I did something I’ve never done before. I brought a baby to a client meeting. To be fair, the meeting was at The Wing and with two other moms-of-babies. But it felt like a milestone. Did I want my baby there? No, as much as I enjoy his adorable ways. But his sister was home sick with a (contagious) bout of croup and I couldn’t leave him there in good conscience. So I strapped on the ErgoBaby and headed for the subway.
On that stressful commute, I reminded myself that a big reason I started Pencil or Ink was to be a good workplace - to offer my team the same sorts of benefits I felt were lacking in other companies. While I didn’t want to bring a baby to a business meeting, I certainly didn’t want to hide my status as a human being with a (gasp!) real life beyond the office. And I’m not alone in that: this article about millennial parents leading companies is hugely inspiring. Not everyone is in a position to make drastic changes of course, but this feels like a movement.
More-traditional workplaces are also beginning to recognize the need for good family leave. “Good” means paid, of course, but also a degree of flexibility. The most progressive companies we work with don’t just offer a few months’ leave, they have an extra “phase-in month” and a reentry committee to make the transition easier on everyone. And their leaders take advantage of these policies, too - a crucial factor in any culture shift.
But parenthood doesn’t end a few months in, and neither does work. More good news: we’re seeing some fantastic policies taking off. Policies that offer flexibility to all employees - not just parents - and work cultures that encourage people to bring their whole selves to work.
For some of us, that means being given the autonomy (and modeling the accountability) needed to control our own schedule, whether we’re parents or not. For others, that means the freedom and precedent to take a personal day to stay home with a sick child, parent, or puppy.
Like anything involving a massive culture shift, there is work to be done. If you’re a team or company leader looking to take a more-human approach to leadership, here are 4 ways you can do so - without rocking the corporate boat (but hey, we like that, too) -
Encourage people to only schedule meetings after 10am and before 3pm. This is a small shift, but it makes a big difference for moms and dads doing the school run or anyone who is hitting an 8am fitness class.
Offer the option of (occasional) remote working. This might not be feasible in some roles, but allowing a day or two per month of work-from-home time usually doesn’t hurt productivity - in fact, it often enhances it.
Find out what your family-leave policies are - and ask a lot of questions. You might be losing your best employees before they even start a family because they’re not in a position to ask questions about the policies. You are, and your voice carries more weight. Does your company have a family-leave policy in place? Does it include all parents, biological moms and dads, and adoptive moms and dads? Does it include nonparents? Find out. And if you hear a lot of “no’s”, ask Why not?
Practice what you preach. If you don’t take paternity leave, for example, you send a message that the company doesn’t care about its people - and that it’s not a place to spend more than a couple of years. You could be losing your best people without even knowing why.
Mastering your career whilst also having a family/personal life will always be challenging, especially if we keep expecting women to “do it all” rather than encouraging everyone to own their share. But there are things we can all do to make workplaces better for parents and nonparents alike. Even if that means bringing this little guy to the office once in a while.
Ellie Hearne is a leadership-communications expert and founder of Pencil or Ink. She has worked with Apple, Google, Bustle, Kate Spade, Marriott, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, Pfizer, Piaget, Starbucks, and Twitter, among others, and has coached numerous individuals and teams.