It took a pandemic to reveal what some of us already knew: the traditional ideas of offices and workspaces, the separation between our work lives and our home lives, was both artificial and a relic of a gendered norm. While my kids are now teenagers, I look back at my early days of motherhood when I balanced the work I loved (including lots of business travel) with family, even during the years I was breastfeeding, and I wonder how I did it and why I put up with it?
One pandemic silver lining is that business leaders have an opportunity to reimagine work so that it works for everyone. They can use their power—and platforms—to cultivate a workplace that’s inclusive, supportive, creative, and equitable. I believe there is no going back, and we can apply three simple tenets to guide this transformation.
EMPATHIZE TO EMPOWER
When leaders truly understand the complex lives of their employees, they can create a workplace culture that empowers people to do their best work and attend to caretaking responsibilities. The Zoom meeting has been a portal into the realities of my colleagues’ lives: a baby that needed to be nursed, breaking up a 10-year-old’s Lego brawl, a father-in-law looking for help with registering for a vaccine, and even an anxious dog. All of them showed up on Zoom and gave me insight into home lives I never would have had.
No one should feel like they have to choose between earning a paycheck and caring for their family. Family-friendly benefits—like paid family leave, a lactation accommodation policy, and a flexible schedule—provide employees with the policies and physical infrastructure support they need.
BE TRANSPARENT TO BUILD TRUST
It may seem counterintuitive, but being vulnerable with your team and admitting your challenges is key to building trust. Behind every email and spreadsheet is a human, so don’t forget to bring your humanity back to the office. The more you share about your thought process—even when you’re not certain of the outcome—the more you invite your team, employees, and stakeholders to be invested in decisions.
For example, at Mamava we have been reckoning with our society’s rapidly evolving understanding of gender constructs and figuring out how to use inclusive or gender-neutral language when we talk about lactation. Having conversations with my staff, and owning that I don’t know what I don’t know, has helped us progress our thinking and avoid the third rail of identity politics.
LEAD WITH YOUR MISSION
Over the last two years, it’s become clear to me that having a social mission gives organizations the resilience and fortitude to weather changes—be it changes in the market, the economy, or customer demand. Keep your mission top of mind with everything you do and communicate it early and often, especially during your recruiting process. And make sure your employees don’t forget it. When the work you do makes an impact and improves the well-being of people, your mission can be what guides you to do the next right thing.
Sascha Mayer is the CEO and Co-founder of Mamava. Mamava, based in Burlington, VT, is the leading expert in lactation space design