In 2003 I had my first child—and I also had the all-too-common experience of learning that my workplace didn’t have a maternity policy. My boss “generously” offered me 12 weeks of unpaid leave; I could afford to take three. Upon my too quick return to work, I tried pumping in a bathroom stall, which was inconvenient and embarrassing. The advertising agency I worked at felt more like an episode of “Mad Men” than a 21st century workplace.
Now, 15 years later, I’ve had more kids, more jobs and more horror stories of organizations that simply don’t know how to handle working mothers—including a breastfeeding company that had a policy against bringing kids to the office. True story. Too many firms use “family-friendly” as a buzzword, instead of a serious approach to their company culture.
When I joined Clyde Group as vice president in 2016, the communications and public affairs agency was just over a year old and most of the HR policies hadn’t been determined. I have the enviable opportunity to define the culture and set the standard for future employees, many of whom will be working parents one day. I view this not just as a personal mission but a growth imperative.
So as a mother and a manager, here are some steps I’d suggest to make your workplace “family-friendly” in its culture and policies:
Talk to parents
One of the first lessons of PR is know your audience. Start by having a conversation with working parents—both with parents in your office and those in your social circles. Talk to single parents, parents with a stay-at-home partner, adoptive parents, and families with two working parents. Ask what they need for a healthy parenting/workplace balance.
First comes baby…
Consider your maternity leave policy—do you have one? Is it good? Does it include adoptive leave? Paternity leave? Make it clear that your organization supports the entire family. Put a good family leave policy in place and back it up with a comfortable, private and well-equipped nursing lounge for mom when she returns.
…then comes doctor appointments, field trips, parent-teacher conferences, little league…
Most “extracurriculars” are inconveniently scheduled between 9am-5pm. No parent wants to choose between pitching reporters and watching their kid pitch the little league season opener. So give them some breathing room when they head to the elevator at 4:30pm during baseball season, and be understanding if they have sick children or doctor appointments.
No guilt trips
It’s that simple. Every working parent feels torn between work and family. If someone asks for time off for their kids, nothing you say will make them feel worse than they already do. On the flip side, if parents stay extra late at work or finish a new business proposal over a weekend, recognize that they chose their job over family dinner, bedtime stories or a weekend soccer game and be sure to thank them.
Be kid friendly
Create an environment where it okay to bring in the kids on occasion. At Clyde Group if I can’t find a sitter, it’s not the end of the world to have my 11-year-old visit for the day. My kids think coming into the office is a special occasion—they LOVE my coworkers. Plus, they get to see their mom in action; it’s important to me that my sons and daughter see that I’m working hard to support them.
Wire your office so working parents can work remotely. Set up video chat so they can be a part of meetings. Use file sharing systems so they don’t miss a beat, even when they’re out of the office. Pay for their monthly cell phone bill so they have email and text, and can stay online while they’re working.
Allow them to go completely dark
Let working parents go completely dark when they’re sick or on vacation—yes that applies when a client “crisis” pops up. Trust your staff to say, “I can manage both right now so keep the emails coming” or “Go away, I need to be in mom mode.”
Clients are parents, too
Your “office” mom or dad often takes on even more responsibility when they get home. Be mindful of which clients and partners you work with who are parents, and be considerate of their family needs. Want to go the extra mile? Send cards for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day—they won’t just thank you for it, they’ll love you for it. This year, we sent Mother’s Day bouquets to our clients because we wanted them to know we recognize how challenging it is to “have it all,” and that we appreciate the work they do alongside us every day.
Set the example
If you are in a position of authority, eyes are on you. Lead by example. If you have kids, leave the office to see the afternoon chorus concert AND tell people that’s what you’re doing. Let your office know it’s okay to be a parent, and that family truly does come first.
Clyde Group just announced a new policy of eight weeks of paid and four additional weeks of unpaid “new parent” leave. They also cover the cost of a monthly housecleaner for the first year of a new child’s life. Beyond that, Clyde Group allows employees to bring their kids to work when childcare falls through, offers generous PTO leave—including a five-week sabbatical after five years with the firm—and allows employees to work remotely as needed.