Career Advice

How Companies Can Better Support Working Parents

The daily challenges and sacrifices made by parents who balance work and family are nothing new. In part 1 of this article, I interviewed several women about what it meant to be a working mom. Here in part 2, we discussed what the role an organization plays in the parental leave process, and what companies can do to better support working parents. Here’s what they had to say!

How did the attitude of leadership within your organization affect your maternity leave?

When it came to preparing for maternity(mat) leaves, the attitude of leadership within an organization, played a huge role on how comfortable women felt stepping away from their jobs.

During her first leave, Noemie Patocka, Divisional VP of HR recounts a conversation she had with her manager, who said “You have 40 years to work, but only 1 year like this to spend with your family.” She remembers feeling like if this mentality could come from leadership, then she could feel comfortable taking her mat leave without feeling penalized.

Jyll Saskin Gales, is Canadian Google employee, whose team and manager are based in the U.S.. She was nervous because “the laws around maternity leave in Canada are different than in the U.S., so I made sure before I was even pregnant that my manager knew the legal difference and implications.” Most women agreed that it’s important to talk to your manager and HR, and let them know any struggles you’re going through and any accommodations you might need throughout the process.

At the time when Saskin Gales was pregnant, she was also being considered for promotion. She let her boss know that she would be taking time for mat leave, in good faith that this would not affect her eligibility for promotion. She was right, and she got the promotion! This made her feel more confident going into her leave knowing that she can come back to a great job.

In a less positive light, Marina Byezhanova, founder of Pronexia recounts her experience being pregnant at her first employer. Her bosses, colleagues, and even HR harassed her with questions about her pregnancy. “It was my first 3 months, and I wasn’t ready to tell them yet. I went for lunch, and my boss was trying to get me to have a drink as an attempt to get me to tell her”. She explains that it was even difficult for her to ask for time off to go to appointments, and do the things she needed to take care of herself and her baby.

What was it like coming back to work after being off on maternity leave?

Upon returning from her maternity leave, Patocka expressed a sense of excitement to jump back in and see her peers again. She explains that being home when you’re used to working can sometimes feel isolating, and led her to feel a sense of FOMO. However, all her these feelings neutralized after a few weeks.

When Byezhanova returned from her maternity leave, it re-confirmed why she needed to leave her organization. When she started her own company, she had a lot of freedom and flexibility. Now as her company grows, there’s naturally less freedom, but the flexibility to stay home when she needs and not explain why she can’t be physically in the office is imperative, and something she says every adult needs.

Chi Nguyen, VP Projects, says that though we are lucky in Canada to take up to 18 months for maternity leave, she ended up returning after 10, as the reality of maternity leave is capped financially. She feels that while EI pays up to a capped 55% in Canada, organizations are not supportive enough in providing additional financial support to make up the difference. She says that “this makes it hard because it can force you to choose between making a living, or raising a family, when in reality, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.”

What can companies can do to make things easier?

Most women agreed that companies could make things easier on everyone by centralizing resources pertaining to information about mat leave. Patocka explains that “Making it easy for expecting moms to find information on things like benefits, and how access to the needed forms and documents is key”.

Navigating things is confusing and hard because the process of going on maternity leave can be complicated and convoluted, and coordinating with both the organization as well as the government can be a challenge. Saskin Gales says “It would be helpful if there was someone in every company that could be a leave advocate. Many women end up taking on the extra responsibility of helping their colleagues navigate all the information around leaves”.

Physical office barriers are also a common problem with many working moms. “Things like parking spots near the entrance, or having physical nursing rooms set up for moms is highly needed, especially across the U.S. where women often return to work before they are done nursing”, says Patocka.

Jessica Laird, Content Specialist, recommends that organizations open up their lines of communication by asking parents what they need in order to make more meaningful policies, and to create better working environments for parents, rather than just trying to guess blindly.

What all women agreed on is that organizations must trust their employees, and allow flexibility if they want to accommodate their working parents. Organizations and managers need to give people the chance to work from home, autonomy to manage their own schedules, and be accepting and understanding when your personal life happens, says Patocka.

Byezhanova says that “it’s up to leadership to create an environment where feeling scared to take time off does not exist. It’s awkward for both parents to have to tell their bosses when they need to go for appointments, and the general culture needs to be accommodating for both mothers and fathers”.

Nguyen explains that her current organization is amazing when it comes to accommodation. She gets to work remotely, and has total autonomy over her day. With modern technology,  she can achieve the exact same level of work at home by communicating over Slack, and she has complete trust from her company that she’s spending her day wisely. Flexible companies know the importance of focusing on the results delivered, versus optics of hours spent working in the office.

For working parents, big changes can come from small actions on behalf of organizations. Creating a culture of flexibility, trust, and autonomy is the way forward for all companies looking to accommodate the needs of all their employees, both parents and non-parents alike!

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