Having a new baby is one of the most exciting and exhausting times in a person’s life. Yet the birth of a child only marks the beginning of the parenthood journey. While having support through time off is essential in those early days, the work doesn’t end when parental leave is over. The sleep-deprived infant days give way to the chaotic toddler years and the event-filled school-aged period.
How can companies best support working parents on every step of their journey? Werklabs, the research division of The Mom Project, partnered with Vivvi, a child care and early childhood learning provider, to discover how. What emerged was an in-depth report — Beyond Parental Leave: Supporting the Marathon of Working Parenthood — that outlines what parents truly need and what organizations can do to better support working parents.
Recently, Vivvi, theSkimm, Werklabs and The Mom Project sat down to share the findings of this essential report and discuss their personal experiences with parenting. You can watch the full discussion here and catch up with the highlights below.
Meet the Panelists
Rocki Howard, Chief Equity & Impact Officer at The Mom Project, served as the moderator for the panel. As a mom of four grown children, Rocki had plenty of wisdom to offer on her experiences. She was joined by Pam Cohen, a fellow member of The Mom Project executive team and Chief Research and Analytics Officer at Werklabs. Pam brought her unique insight as a single mother to a grown son.
They were joined by Lisa Dallenbach, the Chief People Officer at theSkimm, an online resource that succinctly provides women and men the information they need to make confident decisions. With three older children, Lisa has been through the parenting trenches.
Finally, Lauren Hobbs, Chief Marketing Officer at Vivvi, provided valuable, timely information about her parenting experiences with two young children.
Discovering the missing piece of the puzzle
The partnership between Vivvi and The Mom Project began nearly a year ago, with both parties realizing there was a conversation missing about what happens beyond parental leave. By understanding how parenting needs change over the course of childhood and meeting parents where they are, organizations can make a big impact on both the caregivers and the success of their companies.
Initiating the conversation about better parental support meant a lot to Lauren personally. After coming back from leave, Lauren had to learn how to negotiate her needs from a flexibility standpoint. She realized that her parenting needs had changed over time. This sparked her interest in advocating for parental need support that was based on one’s personal situation.
As it turned out, a conversation about better parental support beyond leave was of interest to many — Pam noted that their survey on the subject triggered the most responses they’d ever had.
People assume that as children get older, parents no longer need support from their companies, but they do. The survey found that support drops off steeply after the initial parental leave. While 44% of respondents were able to take the initial parental leave, only 4% said they had access to measures of support beyond that.
Key to satisfaction: A supportive company culture
The report uncovered four key factors that helped working parents feel supported. Team and leader support emerged as the most important. The overwhelming response from parents is that they need a company culture that authentically supports working parents.
“Flexibility is necessary and absolutely essential. But without a culture that’s authentically supportive of working parents, that really falls flat.”
Last year, theSkimm launched an online campaign to encourage companies to share their leave benefits, called #ShowUsYourLeave. The campaign was an enormous success, prompting nearly 600 companies and organizations to publicly share their leave benefits. It sparked a broad conversation about the importance of paid leave.
Lisa of theSkimm used this campaign as a springboard into understanding how to create a supportive culture. For her, it is about providing the flexibility that mom and dads need to build careers that work for them. It’s important to recognize that can mean different things to different people — it’s not always about going up the ladder. Sometimes people just want to do what they do and do it well. Companies would do well to make it known that those desires are respected within their company culture.
“I like to ask myself the question, Am I a leader where people are going to come to me and say, ‘I need something different. Let’s brainstorm a plan.’ Am I a leader where people are going to come to me and say that? And then we can collectively work on that and figure that out.”
As Lisa put it, you don’t know what you don’t know and what you may need as the parenthood journey evolves.
Career pauses are most likely to happen during the toddler and preschool years instead of the infant years.
“Findings on career pauses are fascinating. What happens is that parents come back from leave and find there is little support for their needs. If they need to leave work to handle a school pickup or appointment, they are seen as less dedicated, even if they are keeping up with their work. Many struggle with organizations who are inflexible with their needs.”
This experience can contribute to feelings of burnout and dissatisfaction in parents when they don’t feel valued. As a result, many parents take pauses not because they want to but because they don’t have the flexibility to make it work. And while some choose to take a pause simply because they want to, organizations still need to consider providing more of an on-ramp that allows parents to reacclimate.
By understanding why parents take career pauses, organizations can tailor their solutions to them.
Make work work for everyone
In light of this information, what can organizations do to make the work experience better for everybody?
Communicate with employees regularly to understand their needs — and, importantly, understand that those needs will change over time.
Ensure employees can self-advocate without being penalized.
Create a back-to-work transition plan for after parental leave.
Welcome them back
Introduce them to new people
Allow them to become reoriented with the office
Give them time to reacclimate
Make space for parent ERGs (employee resource groups), which offer a sense of community and camaraderie for parents of kids of all ages.
Expand benefits in all economies
Many companies may be understandably reluctant about expanding benefits during times of economic uncertainty. However, when it comes to helping parents feel supported, much of what you can do doesn’t necessarily cost money.
For example, theSkimm implemented something known as sacred time, which are blocks of time that employees can put on your calendar at any time, for any reason. Whether people have an appointment or need to take a walk, they don’t have to justify their time. The practice gives people room to breathe while knowing they have the support of management.
It means a lot when people know the organization is listening to them. When you can put supportive practices in place, you get the most out of your employees — both in terms of what they put in and how long they stay.
Overall, flexibility and support are about getting creative with your offerings and discovering what people really want and need.
“What I think flexibility means, it’s not just parents, it’s having options in your life and not feeling like your job is the thing that has to encompass everything or that you don’t have any choices to manage your life to do the things you want to do.”
Life happens all around us, and the richness that you bring to the job comes from the richness of your life. Having options in your life and not feeling like your job encompasses everything allows people to feel empowered.