Collective grievances for Zoom happy hours and subpar home offices have taken a backseat as our at-home work lives shifted from temporary to seemingly permanent routines. While the first six months of our “new normal” brought coworkers together to share in the challenges of remote work, there is a growing divide between parents and nonparents in the workplace that can’t be ignored. What may have started as quiet murmurings of “special treatment” for parents has turned into a full-fledged and public strife between the two groups.
Last month, the New York Times reported on the backlash big tech companies are facing from nonparents about flexible benefits and additional support granted to parents who are attempting to occupy the dual roles of full-time professionals, with full-time caregivers/teachers. Not only is this mindset completely tone-deaf and backward, but it’s also setting the entire workforce back in time, squashing any progress towards workplace inclusivity, and creating toxic work cultures.
As the CEO of Cleo, a parenting benefits company with a leadership team made up of mothers (including myself, a mother to two young kids), this topic is personal to me. In September, an astounding 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce, and our own research demonstrates how working mothers, in particular, have reached their wit’s end (a Cleo report found that women are losing 50% more time than men to stress/anxiety and caregiving).
As we near the end of this exhausting year, smart companies are getting creative and making hard decisions about how to invest in working parents to save themselves from the unattractive alternative: a workforce bereft of a diversity of people and ideas.
Here are three simple arguments why it is in everyone’s best interest to support working parent colleagues.
1. Great companies understand that equity + inclusion = success
A key argument companies are hearing from nonparents is the call for equal time off and flexible perks to alleviate the added pressures and ever-increasing workloads everyone is experiencing. While no one’s circumstances right now are easy, nonparents are failing to see the broader business implications of losing this especially vulnerable group.
Typically, working parents hold senior leadership positions—46% are people managers—making it even more expensive and challenging to lose them, and creating double or triple the amount of work and costing the company as much as 213% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them.
In addition to company funds lost trying to replace these employees, their immense workload and responsibilities are then saddled upon their colleagues for the long-term given slowed hiring amid the pandemic—many of whom are the employees arguing against parental benefits in the first place.
Moreover, the data is clear that companies with gender diversity on executive teams means more success for the business: According to McKinsey, these companies are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation.
For these reasons, the large swath of skilled women leaving the workforce is a very real threat to business. Failing to support our working parent communities will result in poor economic health for the business. No one, parent or not, wants to work for a struggling company.
2. If we don’t step up for working parents, our workplaces will soon reflect the gender inequalities of the 1950s
It’s no surprise that today’s employees value diverse and equitable workplaces. After all, we’ve come a long way since the many inequalities of the 1950s workplace. Although it may feel easy to knock parents for receiving added benefits, these behaviors permeate a toxic, regressive work environment—specifically against women.
Cleo found that 60% of working parents had changed their work schedule to care for their children amid COVID-19, with women 15% more likely to have made a change. Women are disproportionately responsible for the bulk of childcare and leaving the workforce to care for children, essentially diminishing any progress made over the past 50+ years for equality in the workplace.
To keep the forward-looking and inclusive workplace of tomorrow, it’s important to abandon the inequitable ideas (and benefits) of yesterday. Employers can reverse this potentially devastating trend by meeting working mother’s needs through inclusive benefits such as access to flexible in-home childcare, and more.
When you consider that women who take paid leave are 93% more likely to be in the workforce nine to twelve months after a child’s birth than women who take no leave, the value in supporting this vulnerable group becomes clear. Unless we want to revert back to the gender inequality of the 1950s, the attitude around supporting working parents—especially mothers—must be corrected.
3. Equitable benefits are the last mile of a company’s inclusion strategy
While COVID-19 has highlighted (and exacerbated) differences in employee needs, including challenges, demographics, and life situations, disparity among benefits existed well before 2020. Particularly as companies look to retain employees and acquire top talent, the types of benefits offered are widely varied and nuanced for specific needs.
Take, for example, offerings like mental health and wellness services, student loan support, and gender confirmation surgery. While niche, some of these more meaningful benefits have become table stakes in the HR world over the past few years. Categories of benefits are constantly evolving, and different types of benefits exist by nature of having a diverse workforce. Catering to employees’ varying needs is key to building an inclusive and equitable company.
Think about it this way: If your company doesn’t care about the needs of working parents in one of the most challenging and disruptive situations imaginable will they care about your needs either? The answer is a definitive ‘no.’ Employees need to take a step back and recognize the huge benefit of working for a company that caters to diverse needs—including those of working parents.
Benefiting parents benefits everyone
These three reasons, and many more, dispel the notion that benefiting parents are somehow granting “special treatment” over nonparents. To think that a company facing the largest crisis of our time should not have to make hard decisions to support an evolving set of employee needs is not just disappointing—it’s immature and naive.
When companies embrace our most vulnerable employees, they build a true culture of belonging and a better bottom line. Here’s to a better future ahead and leaving the 1950s (and soon, 2020) far behind.
Sarahjane Sacchetti is the CEO of Cleo.