In Your Shoes: How Empathy in the Workplace Drives Success for Everyone

"Working moms are looking for companies that understand their situation, have empathy, and allow for some kind of flexibility in the workday." - Contingent Workforce Program Manager

With so much talk about the continued talent shortages facing companies across all industries, parents and caregivers still remain an underutilized opportunity to fortify the workforce. In Werklabs (the research division of The Mom Project) and Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) recent report: Unlocking the Potential of Parents in the Contingent Workforce, we determined there is a gap between parents’ expectations and companies’ offerings when it comes to contingent work. In this series, The Mom Project and Talent Solutions TAPFIN explore four critical practices that business leaders can prioritize to close this gap between what parents and caregivers want and what companies want to offer.

One of the most simultaneously rewarding and painful parts of being human is our ability to feel a range of emotions. Though we use the same words to describe our feelings — joy and despair; love and grief — the way we experience them is unique to each individual. We can never fully know what someone else is going through. But we can use empathy as a bridge to understanding.

Empathy helps us forge connections with one another, allowing us to build meaningful relationships — and it is vital in the workplace.

Allison started The Mom Project because there was a lack in the business world. A lack of flexibility. A lack of balance. A lack of understanding about the unique challenges working moms face. All of these missing pieces share the same problem: the failure to see beyond your own experiences to build more inclusive workplace cultures.

Contingent work allows companies to connect with highly skilled, diverse candidates who have much to offer. Yet adequately supporting these workers and their needs requires four critical practices: opportunity, empathy, flexibility, and training.

Let’s dive in to examine why empathy is crucial in creating workspaces that work for everyone.

Why empathy in the workplace matters 

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In the workplace, empathy relies on two main things: understanding and seeing the person behind the role, and highlighting the importance of diversity in hiring.

Empathy is a foundational pillar of The Mom Project. In fact, it is the core of our mission: when moms are in the workplace, a space that fosters more empathy naturally follows. This doesn’t just apply to the total number of women in a workplace. Empathy starts at the top, with leadership, yet the statistics are sobering. The report showed that women are far underrepresented in positions of leadership, with only 7% of survey respondents being women in C-suite or senior executive roles, compared to 20% of men. 

This lack of women in the top ranks of businesses — and the perceived lack of empathy that goes with it — disadvantages not only their companies, but also parents, often mothers, in the workplace.

“Business leaders build a workday around historical information, and historically more men have been employed than women,” Wen Stenger, CEO of Omni Inclusive said. This leads to less consideration of outside responsibilities that have traditionally fallen to women.

“Working moms are looking for companies that understand their situation, have empathy, and allow for some kind of flexibility in the workday — an understanding culture that allows them to do what they need to do and also do their job,” said a contingent workforce program manager at a tech company.

When I joined The Mom Project, committed to building a future where we do not have to choose between work and family, I was not yet a working mom myself. I grew a partnerships team, which included working parents, and my connection to empathetic leadership deepened: I made a promise to myself to show up with intention — to be curious and seek understanding.  

A year into my Mom Project journey, my promise to lead with empathy was put to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic changed our worlds as we knew it. My team, full of top achievers with ambitious career aspirations and a commitment to integrate work and family, now faced a childcare crisis and lived each day in fear for their families' health. The game changed.

Fast forward three years, I now have a vivacious 18-month-old, and I get it in a way I didn't now that it's my lived experience. Having this common bond does not stop the need to be mindful, however — we are all navigating our own challenges in life, and empathy goes a long way.

Fostering empathy in the workplace - a guide 

Leaning into empathy and valuing what parents, specifically moms, require out of work is critical — and attainable. Contingent workers run the risk of feeling excluded from companies, disconnecting them from the culture and making work less enjoyable. Because of this, the best way to practice empathy for them is to enhance inclusion whenever possible. This falls into two main areas:

1. Foster an environment of “personal inclusion.”

2. Don’t let co-employment concerns block all forms of inclusion.

Personal inclusion is highly influenced by a contingent worker’s direct manager. It’s important to remember that this role is often the bridge between the contingent worker and leadership, so cultivating a solid relationship can weigh heavily into a worker’s feeling included. Personal inclusion factors include things like treating contingent workers similarly to their full-time colleagues, caring about their personal well-being, communicating in a transparent manner, and giving them an opportunity to share their opinions.

In some cases, companies may hesitate to promote inclusion for contingent workers due to co-employment concerns. However, you don’t have to completely curtail offerings due to these fears. You could, for example, rebrand employee resource groups (also known as business resource groups or BRGs) to make it clear that they’re not only for employees, or you could work with your MSP to offer groups for contingent workers. You could include contingent workers in team-building events to help show their support is valued.

When contingent workers feel seen and included, everybody wins. Empathy brings benefits to the companies that use contingent workers as well as to the workers. One of those benefits is building a loyal base of contingent workers who are willing to be redeployed.

“Some buyers are realizing, if we actually care about the workers’ experience even though they’re not our employees, we get some loyal contractors who we can redeploy over and over again,” Stenger said. “It makes labor easier to find.”

Lead with empathy, in work and in life

The ability to see beyond yourself is imperative for all of us, both in work and in life. Building a better world starts with recognizing that we are all in it together, and when we lift each other up, we are changing the future for good — for us all.

Together, we must work towards a future we want to see — and we need the help of companies like yours. Join us in our mission to create a better tomorrow.

Be on the lookout for the next in this blog series by Tapfin.

Read more about the gap between parents’ expectations and companies’ offerings when it comes to contingent work and how you can take action in the full report from Werklabs, The Mom Project and Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA): Unlocking the Potential of Parents in the Contingent Workforce,

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