From working mother to working parent: let’s change the narrative
It is true that a woman who is a mother and works lifts a much heavier load than her male counterpart. She is expected to do the 9 to 5 routine and single-handedly manage the household domain. She is constantly putting her career and motherhood on a weighing scale and balancing it as if success on one definitely means failure on the other. The male counterpart, however, is not usually judged on the same scale - not by himself, his friends & family, or even his workplace.
This dated gender role distribution and bias creep into workplaces very regularly. Organizations hold back more aggressive opportunities from these women - in the garb of ‘understanding’ that they have ‘other’ responsibilities. They assume that they cannot be available for long hours. Pay gaps become common. Working fathers see a different treatment altogether. They are made to work harder, sometimes painfully so, because it is assumed that this is their primary responsibility and they have nowhere else to be.
But why does this bias exist when 80% of the workforce, whether male or female, have children? Is parenting not a joint responsibility for both genders? Are children expected to grow up without an equally involved father? Are they to grow up in the patriarchal mindset learning that women will need to compromise on their careers for child-raising? As reasonable individuals, we will say no to all these questions. Then why are organizations creating this imbalance?
Organisations need to create policies that allow ‘parents’ to be happy parents and do not make them choose between their families and career. They need to drive the men less hard, such that they can be more present fathers. This will help the mothers take up more responsibilities at the workplace, ensuring her career is not comprised of missed opportunities. This, is the balance we need to achieve - not the one between parenting & career.
So, how can you build a more parent-friendly organisation?
1. Managing & respecting time - Everyone’s time is important and needs to be divided between work and home as they deem fit. Provide flex-hours if you can. Allow WFH if that’s convenient. Let each parent decide what works out to be the best solution for them to manage their responsibilities.
2. Welcome children - We welcome children to come to the office. Yes, they can be a distraction sometimes. However, most often, they bring so much life and laughter into the office. Give them some toys or books and keep them occupied.
3. Don’t guilt-trip - As management, ensure that you don’t accidentally refer to their personal lives and deem that to be a cause of lack of performance unless it really is. Do not use it as a get-out-of-jail-card because you don’t want to really dig deep to understand what the real problem is.
4. Sensitize the younger team - Build a culture where snide remarks of ‘not being available’ are not commonplace. Teach the younger lot how to respect people who have responsibilities different from them.
5. Don’t pass them up on opportunities - Ask if someone can handle an opportunity. Make them aware if it might require more attention than usual and let them decide if they can commit. Once they do, don’t doubt their commitment.
Parenting and career should not be a choice to make - not for men or women. Most of us will traverse this journey. We should all be able to do great work, fulfill our passion, and be able to commit to the healthy upbringing of our children.
It is important that the workplaces of the future recognize this and move forward.