“If the leaders among us, who get to choose what they do with their lives and are incredibly resourced are still trapped by the system, then something’s really broken. And we need to acknowledge that this matrix we’re all agreeing to, doesn’t work,” said Amy Henderson, Author and Entrepreneur. After hundreds of interviews, she learned working Mothers, believed that they were failing. Despite the positive shifts they felt.
Rebuilding routines, with each new child, is like unpacking after a move. Nothing fits in the same way. Babies learn how to walk and talk. And we learn new ways to manage life’s responsibilities, including work. The first year after a child is born, is often considered the hardest. But the adjustments come with significant upside, beyond the parental joy that sustains us.
Amy learned how this high-stress time, unlocks exponential growth for parents. And she became passionate about reframing working parenthood. Because the return to work is often where the love of parenting meets friction. But what if work was different? What if parents and their organizations could benefit from this miraculous transformation?
Parenthood Is Not Exactly Celebrated at Work
Okay, it’s true, many employers will arrange for a baby shower and even send a gift. But unfortunately, caregivers and particularly, Mothers continue to experience bias at work post-kids. Amy shared in her book, Tending: Parenthood & the Future of Work, “In 2007, Shelley Correll then at Cornell University found that Mothers in the workforce were rated as significantly less competent, intelligent and less committed than women without children. And a Mother is 79% less likely to be hired and half as likely to get promoted, when compared to an equally qualified woman without a child. And the number of women in the US, who are frightened to tell their boss they’re pregnant, has nearly doubled from 12% to 21%.” What’s often described as the ‘Motherhood penalty’ is at the heart of the wage and leadership gaps that effect all women. Why does this persist?
Employer Expectations Need to Shift
One of the reasons, is that employers still reward long hours and face time. Days filled with back-to-back meetings are followed by nights plowing through emails. Which doesn’t leave space for caregiving. So, in most companies it’s work, not only the return to work, that needs reimagining. And in the US parents don’t receive the financial support or protections, common in other parts of the world. So, most maternity and paternity leaves are 3 months at most. And parents often return to the same job, where they’re expected to work at the same pace. Of course, this isn’t realistic. Which is why almost half of Mothers exit the workforce at some point for caregiving. What can employers do to change it?
Like All Change, it Begins With Awareness
Amy said, “When you find out you’re pregnant you should get a manual. That says, ‘look, it’s going to be really hard and you’re going to feel like you’re failing. But you’re actually growing your brain in ways that are going to make you exponentially better.” Amen. She added, “And my original vision, was that this manual would come from your employer. They’d say, ‘by the way, we want to thank you for doing the hard work of growing your brain. Because we need what is happening to you, to be applied to our workplace and here’s the science behind it. Oh, and here’s how we’re going to support you. We’ll frame our entire company culture and narrative, not to mention benefits, policies and practices, to be that you are an asset. And that you deserve support.’” Wow. So, we’re not there yet with this working-family-utopia. But, Amy has spent time thinking about what will bring employers closer.
This is Your Brain on Parenting
Amy said, “I have found that there is data to quantify the experience. Maybe not some of the more ephemeral things that happen but for the real rigorous transformation that occurs, there is significant data. Like brain scans that you cannot refute.” Amy learned that hands-on parenting enhances: collaboration, emotional intelligence, decision making, empathy, presence and efficiency. Vital skills for modern leaders. She explained, “When I shared the data with my original co-founder, who was in Human Resources for a large tech company at the time, she was floored. After I interviewed her, I told her about the themes of what parenthood unlocks. And she got really quiet and said, ‘Holy shit! We spend more money, than I care to admit, to train leaders to develop those skills! And you’re telling me that parenthood possibly more than anything else, is what unlocks them? …We should be investing in our parents so that they develop these skills and come back to work with them.” Right. What would investing in parents look like?
Imagine a Workplace That Honors What Parents Gain
Amy said, “There’s the mis-perception, that a supportive workplace gives little to no work. Or work that doesn’t matter after a parental leave. And that’s actually not the best thing. Parents want to come back with their gifts to the world. And if the workplace can build the infrastructure around them, so that parents can bring their best, what an incredible opportunity! Employers get this person with incredible neurological plasticity and a wealth of experience within the company.” Let’s imagine for a moment, a work culture that holds the positive expectation, that parents will bring wisdom that can benefit everyone.
And Supports Parents Like Ferraris
It would flip the current situation. Today parents, often Mothers, fear the real possibility that they will lose their jobs or seniority post-kids. Because most organizations reward and rely upon long hours. What if this neuroplasticity that parents bring, was used to innovate? Many parents burnout trying to maintain their pre-kids work availability. Amy said, “They need to be resourced to access that wisdom. It’s like the difference between being a Volkswagen® or a Ferrari®, right?” Nice.
She explained, “Put anything in the Volkswagen and you never have to tune it. But a Ferrari has got to have the right kind of service, gas and maintenance. The Volkswagen can go forever. But the Ferrari, when it runs, it runs faster than anything else you’ve ever seen! Parents are going to be more like the Ferraris when they come back. And they deserve some special care. And eventually, they’ll go back to being Volkswagens if they need to be. But in the meantime, how can we think about this? That parents need special concessions just like Ferraris. And that they’re going to perform at a really high level for a discrete period of time.” Brilliant. This is where the ecosystem makes the difference.
To Create a Better Bottom Line
Amy explained, “Parenthood is going to be the thing that breaks you. But it is also the thing that can make you more of who you are. And it can bring out the best of what you have to give. But that journey is one that requires incredible support. And it’s different than any support that you’ve ever needed before.” Wait, don’t dismiss this as magical thinking quite yet. The concept of a double-bottom line isn’t new. And consumers increasingly vote with their wallets for organizations that prioritize social impact. Supporting sustainable work isn’t that far a leap from sustainable goods. Organizations and leaders can choose to define return on investment in many ways. Proper support for caregivers, has the potential to improve not only Learning and Development but Inclusion, Retention and Employee Engagement. Initiatives that organizations collectively spend billions on each year.
So, the good news? The pandemic has forced discussions about real solutions. Like paid-leave and tax offsets, that are commonplace in other countries. But government tends to move slowly. And Employer support can mitigate for this. It’s no secret that parents and their Employers, rely upon each other. You can begin the conversations in your organization. And we can all play a role in ushering in a new, evolved and inclusive, era of work.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Amy Henderson!
Check out her amazing book, Tending: Parenthood & the Future of Work and course on how parenting can unlock your career potential. Follow her great adventure on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and her website.
Amy Henderson is one of our nation’s leading voices on the critical role of parenting and caregiving in developing the future of work. Amy is a mother to three kids and the founding CEO of TendLab, which began as a consulting business to help companies unlock the power and potential of parents at work, and has transformed into something much bigger. The new TendLab is a gathering place for incubation and instigation, bringing together the changemakers across business, research, technology, and politics to forge a better path forward for working families.
Armed with the revelation that parenting develops career-critical skills, Amy wrote “Tending: Parenthood & The Future of Work” to further the Tending movement. Amy also started and co-leads the Fam Tech Founders Collaborative. A network of over 130 founders who are solving for the needs of caregivers. A regular speaker and author advocating on behalf of the power of parenthood at work, Amy has been featured in and written for The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company, Slate, InStyle, and more.
Tags: Book Review, Career development, Career Development for Moms, entrepreneurship, leadership, learning, Parent Productivity, work life integration for Moms, work/life balance for parents, Working Families