The ideal worker in American society tends to someone who works relentlessly, doesn’t take time off, and picks up shifts or tasks as needed. Those expectations are hard to uphold for an everyday person, but even more unrealistic for parents.
Dr. Jenna Yentes, a biomechanics scientist and professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, shared some of the experiences she’s encountered while working with parents. She touched on the issues surrounding the way workdays are set up, parental leave, and the expectations placed on each parent.
If you look at progress at the end of the year, it might not be taken into consideration that someone had a child. If the only factors considered are outputs and nothing else, Dr. Yentes said, it might look like they haven’t done as much. Time it takes to raise children needs to be taken into consideration. She also discussed the importance of adjusting expectations for new parents because of this.
Both parents face conflict when it comes to balancing work life and home life. Dr. Yentes brought up the way that workdays are scheduled. Are meetings being scheduled at 7 a.m., when a parent needs to be taking their child to school? Or are events being scheduled when school gets out, when someone has to pick them up and take them to their after-school activity?
Dr. Yentes also talked about the differences between mothers and fathers in the workplace. Both face challenges when it comes to being a parent and having a career, but both encounter unique problems.
“I don’t like the term working mom because you don’t use the term working dad,” Dr. Yentes said. Mothers tend to be judged more harshly for their decisions, especially regarding work-life balance. If a mother takes a day to focus on her career, someone will have something to say about their qualifications to be a parent. Society is still outgrowing the idea that women can only care for their children and nothing else.
Of course, fathers face their own setbacks. An article by American Progress mentioned the “earning is caring” mindset. The United States requirement for parental leave is 12 weeks. Those weeks are not required to be paid. So, if both parents were to take their allowed leave, there would be no income. It’s not that fathers don’t want to be at home with their children, but that continuing to work is sometimes necessary so their family can survive.
Marti Carrington has been in human resources for 20 years, working within private and nonprofit sectors. She currently runs her own consulting business, Equity Nerd, focused on changing organizational culture. Her advice for businesses working towards equity, especially with women and parents, is to hire more women. “As we think about diversifying work force, it’s about who’s in charge of making decisions and setting the culture.” People respond better when there’s a personal connection, she said. If other parents are involved, they’ll be more likely to understand any issues that arise.
Parenthood itself is not easy. Throw a career into the mix and it becomes even more challenging. There needs to be change in workplaces, society, and even law to shape a better work-life balance for parents. If you are looking to build a startup, creating a culture where parenthood is embraced with equity might be a good place to begin if you want to establish an environment where employees feel valued.