As awareness, interest, and expectations around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) continue to grow in the US employment arena, it is important for employers to consider the unique needs of the working parent segment of employees. Whether your organization is operating with a workforce that is fully in-person, remote/work-from-home, or a hybrid model, new parents returning to work after a baby will need very specific types of support when they come back.
It is well documented that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women when it comes to the workforce, and mothers of young children had the steepest reductions in employment during 2020. Among mothers with children under the age of 13, there were 1.2 million fewer of them working, representing a loss of 7% of employed mothers last year.
With the insights and experience gained during the pandemic, now is an opportunity for employers to look at ways they can make their culture more equitable to mothers and parents who may be considering rejoining the workforce.
A Review of Equity vs. Equality
Creating equitable environments for new parents, and particularly for working women who become mothers, doesn’t mean giving them better treatment than their non-parent counterparts. It means providing the necessary support to new parents because they have unique needs compared to other employees.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) helps define the very important distinction between Equality and Equity when it comes to gender:
“Gender equality, equality between men and women…does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they were born male or female. Gender equity means fairness of treatment for men and women according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different, but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations, and opportunities.” – (UNESDOC)
Now more than ever, organizations need to focus on creating family-friendly cultures for working parents and develop actionable, measurable policies and benefits that provide a more level playing field for all employees—in turn creating more equitable environments.
Let’s look at some of the main areas where organizations can make long-term changes that can help create more equity in the workplace by addressing parents’ unique needs.
A unique need of many new parent employees is the physical requirement to pump when they return to work, in order to continue feeding their baby breast milk. While there are federal and state laws that require many employers to meet basic requirements for enabling pumping, all employers should evaluate their policies and resources to ensure that they accommodate women who have chosen to continue providing breast milk to their child. For those who have made this decision, it is not an option to only breastfeed at home. They must pump their breast milk regularly every day in order to maintain their milk supply and avoid mastitis and other health issues or infections. Get started by reviewing or creating a lactation accommodation policy and create lactation spaces that allow for private, dignified pumping.
Flexible Work Arrangements
In a survey from SHRM, 91% of human resource professionals agreed that flexible work arrangements positively influence employee engagement, job satisfaction and retention. Many U.S. workers now consider flexibility to be the most important factor in considering job offers when it comes to how they can balance their personal and professional lives; in fact, 80% of employees surveyed in 2019 said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. While the interest in flexible work arrangements is very high across all employees, for those who are also parents, this can be more than a nice-to-have. Juggling the schedule limits that come with children – from daycare to kids’ sporting activities – can mean that without flexible work options, maintaining a job can become impossible. There are many forms that flexibility can take, including job sharing, a compressed work week, shifting from full-time to part-time work, adjusting start and end times for the workday, or having the option to work remotely.
Paid Parental Leave
Paid leave in general is an important benefit for all employees, even those without children, in order to maintain and address needs outside of work as they arise. However, parents welcoming the arrival of a new baby to their family do have unique requirements for managing that transition and bonding with their new little one. The United States is the only developed country without a federal policy on parental leave, so employees in the U.S. have vastly different experiences based upon their state government and employer at the time they have a child. In recent years there has been quite a bit of important expansion in paid parental leave benefits offered by employers, and it is proving to be good for business. There is increasing evidence that having access to paid leave increases the likelihood that mothers will return to work and continue progressing in their careers, a significant gain when it comes to keeping and cultivating loyal talent.
Shift Towards Telehealth
The pandemic has brought heightened awareness to the benefits of telehealth for consumers, who previously did not show significant familiarity or preference for using it. Since the pandemic began in 2020, a recent survey showed that 59% of consumer respondents were more likely to use telehealth services than previously, and 33% would even leave their current physician for a provider who offered telehealth access. As organizations look at health programs that include telehealth services, they ought to consider the specific needs of new parents returning to work after the birth of a child. Telehealth access to pediatric experts is particularly valuable, because the questions that arise with a new baby are distinct and parents can be prone to make unnecessary trips to the ER if they cannot find help elsewhere.
These kind of supportive policies and benefits can help attract and retain talented women, who are looking for employers who understand and support their choice in wanting both a career and family. Organizations that are ready to step up for working parents, and help level the playing field for working women, will benefit from the strengths of a robust, diverse organization and talent pipeline.
SHRM, Leveraging Workplace Flexibility for Engagement and Productivity, 2014
Flex Jobs Survey, SHRM, Managing Flexible Work Arrangements, 2019
The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave, The Council of Economic Advisors, 2014
5 Reasons Why Telehealth Is Here To Stay (COVID-19 And Beyond), May, 2020
Sullivan, AF, Rudders SA, Gonsalve, AL, Steptoe AP, Espinola JA, Compargo CA, National Survey of pediatric services available in US emergency departments, International Journal of Emergency Medicine 2013.