Working parents – whether you’re a father, mother or a non-binary parent – have faced more challenges in the last two years.
Yet, much of the world focuses on mothers and birth parents as the primary caregivers. That often leads to gender inequality, whether it’s conscious or not. For example, when a child is sick, schools typically call the mother – regardless if she is a primary caregiver and/or primary household earner. A recent thread that went viral on Twitter backs this with countless stories of working parents speaking up about the daily inequalities they encounter.
These occurrences can contribute to gender inequality both in and out of the workplace. Alongside primary childcare responsibilities falling on women, the cost of care alone is often enough that one parent is forced to leave the workforce. And prior to paying for childcare, the majority of parents in the U.S. don’t have access to paid parental leave.
Only 25% of firms offer some sort of paid parental leave, meaning only 35% of American workers have access. Unless care is supported through an individual’s employer, it could be nonexistent, especially in lower income households.
So how can employers support working parents now? Here are three ideas:
Consider paid parental leave
Consider offering paid parental leave. Paid leave – for both parents – offers many benefits. HR leaders might cultivate a culture that encourages parents to actually use that leave. Paid leave is often under-utilized, especially at companies that offer non-gendered, equal paid leave.
This can start from the top. Leaders, especially men, can set an example by taking that leave.
When dads take paternity leave, of any length, couples are 26% more likely to stay married, and see closer parent-child relationships over time. Dads also show stronger neural responses to infant cries after just twelve hours of baby-wearing. This allows men’s brains and bodies to transform, reflecting a neurological transition to parenthood. Mothers, in turn, show improved mental health trajectories and higher earning potential. One company who has really flipped the script on parental leave is Meta, where the norm now is for men to take four full months of paid paternity leave. It’s created an entire culture shift within the company for working parents.
Support flexible hours
HR teams might collaborate with leaders to create an environment that supports flexible hours so parents feel more at ease when inevitable child-related interruptions occur.
A flexible work environment is especially beneficial when parents are reacclimating to work postpartum. Moms and dads feel supported and empowered to manage their schedule in a way that works for them as a professional as well as a parent.
Along the same vein, remote work can help to alleviate the impact of child-rearing on an individual. These policies can be structured to include non-gendered parents and be used by everyone, regardless of gender or parental status.
By shifting the priorities to deliverable-focused versus face-time-focused, a company will cultivate an environment that retains and values its highest-potential employees.
Flexible and remote work are only part of the solution. Working remotely doesn’t mean parents don’t need childcare; it is impossible to work with 100% capacity while also minding young children. The cost of childcare is also a huge burden for many working parents. HR can support working parents with some form or subsidy for childcare and/or resources to working parents.
Many employees don’t fully understand their benefits packages or realize the amount of resources that they have at their disposal. So HR teams will want to work one-on-one with employees who are planning to have a child to review existing benefits plan and possibly map out a care path that fits within the company’s policies. This could include an action plan for reintegrating back into the company postpartum, a list of resources that are subsidized or recommended by the company, and a reminder of the paid leave policies.
Leadership can also work with HR to review their overall benefits packages and identify ways they could further supplement the existing package. Are there care programs that you can offer at a discounted rate to your employees? Does your insurance cover all stages of family planning? Many people forget the costs associated with a family often start before a child is even conceived. Fertility treatments, egg freezing and beyond contribute to the overall costs of growing a family.
By identifying areas that could set an individual up for success before a child is even conceived, and then working to reinforce those areas, an employer can truly make a positive impact on how a working parent moves through the stages of raising a family while still progressing through their career.
And once the child arrives, those costs only continue to escalate. American families pay up to 20% of household income on childcare costs; and when parents pay for this care, they are literally paying to work for you. Offering financial support, such as childcare vouchers, Mirza’s own Care Now Pay Later benefit, or back-up care can alleviate stress, increase presenteeism, and retention.
The most ideal way to support working parents would be at an institutional level where the government looks at care as an integral part of society’s economic infrastructure. As we are a fair distance from that ambition, employers have become the great hope for families across the United States. By being transparent, leading with empathy and recognizing the challenges a working parent faces daily, employers can truly make an immediate and lasting difference for their teams.