Policy isn’t Practice: Creating a Culture of Support for Working Parents


Historically, the only support available to working parents has come in the form of benefits and policies. This is helpful, but it isn’t enough. Organizations need to create a culture of support around leave — and that requires helping both managers and employees change their mindsets.

Managers need training to help develop their emotional intelligence, so they know a) what showing support looks like and b) how to set aside their own biases about taking leave. Employees also need support and tools to help them have the right conversations and successfully manage the leave process while staying focused on their career ambitions. As a working mom of four, I know first-hand how effective coaching can be in helping navigate the challenges of working parenthood.

Working Parents are a Business Asset

We must challenge the way we think about what ‘supporting’ parents really means. Forward-thinking organizations don’t just support working parents because it’s the right thing to do — they do it because working parents are an asset and investing in them makes sense.

Our Expecting More Than a Baby” study shows that parenthood improves performance in the work-place in multiple areas. Those organizations that value working parents as an integral part of their overall diversity and inclusion strategy invest accordingly. Take KPMG for instance, which invests heavily in career/life coaching to support working parents and ensures that its leaders model the behaviors they advocate.

Failure to support working parents has a serious business cost. Our study shows that half of mothers and 65 pecent of fathers felt that their managers didn’t support them in taking parental leave. And half of all parents say they struggle to keep an interesting or challenging role while being a parent.

How likely is it that these employees will want to build a career in an organization where they feel discouraged from taking leave and unable to keep the work that interests them most? Organizations that support working parents are making a long-term investment; retaining talent is cheaper than sourcing it.

‘Here’s Your Leave; Don’t Use It’

Organizations need to take active steps to communicate that employees have permission to take the leave time they’ve been given. Two thirds of working parents say they would have taken a longer leave if they’d seen their coworkers do so. And 57 percent say they would have treated their leave differently with support from their manager. Specifically, new dads often choose not to take paternity leave out of fear that it will be perceived as a lack of commitment to the organization: 63 percent believe that taking leave would hurt their career.

Raising the visibility of parental leave by providing a robust package of support (e.g. coaching, communication, manager training, executives who model the way) will help employees at every level of the organization feel more comfortable with working parents taking the time away. The alternative (status quo) comes with all sorts of negative consequences including working parent guilt, stress, decreased productivity, morale issues and turnover.

Moreover, on an individual level, all employees need to challenge themselves to be more supportive of their colleagues. The more we create a culture that values diversity of experience, the more likely people are to support the needs of everyone, including working parents. 



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