October 12, 2018

To change the equality game, it’s time to get better at supporting working parents

Achieving equality is about more than supporting working women and providing flexible programs – it requires a broader mindset and power shift. Here, our Chief People and Culture Officer Lisa Sterling makes the case for change.

Lisa Sterling

As Chief People and Culture Officer, Lisa is responsible for executing Ceridian's global people strategy combined with leading the vision on the Dayforce Talent Management offering.

As a people leader and advocate for Ceridian’s people and families, I continuously focus on how to enhance our strategies, programs, and our workplace experiences and culture. By listening to the needs of our employees, gathering relevant data about our workforce, and analyzing the success of our initiatives, we can create, execute and enhance our experiences for every person.

Ceridian’s achievement as one of the 100 best companies for working mothers this year has given me the opportunity to reflect on what we at Ceridian have learned, and what more leaders should be thinking about when it comes to progressively leading the workforce of the future.

Gender equality is a key focus in the market today for many reasons. At Ceridian, we’ve written extensively about it, from our own journey of becoming EDGE certified, to ideas for sponsoring and advancing women in the workplace, to the gaps that currently exist for women in tech leadership roles.

But organizations today need a reality check. We can’t press for progress and true equality if we, as leaders, don’t evolve our programs to create a culture that is not only conducive to working women, but to working parents.

Organizations can do a lot more – and do it a lot better – when it comes to supporting working parents. First, the majority of companies continue to reinforce a bias (whether conscious or unconscious) that puts undue responsibility on women to make a choice between work and family. Second, organizations aren’t doing enough to build environments that not only treat working parents equally, but that advocate for them and provide opportunities for them to be successful at work. Here are some key considerations to drive change now.

We’re putting the responsibility on women to make a choice

Women shouldn’t have to make the choice between either “stepping out” of the workforce to start and raise a family, or working and accelerating their careers. In today’s world of work this should not be a choice any parent has to make.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, there are 25 million working mothers with children under 18 in the U.S. Of that, 70% of those mothers participate in the labor force, predominantly in full-time roles. And, according to Pew Research Center, 60% of working mothers say balancing work and family is difficult. That’s a significant number of women who deal with the pressure of making a choice and the impacts of that choice. So why are we talking about this in terms of a “choice?”

With current policies and programs, employers are exasperating the challenge of preventing women from having the level of success they desire at work at the speed at which they deserve it. For many, they’re disconnected while on leave, and if they return, it’s up to them to figure out how to get their careers back on track. In today’s world, six to eight to 18 months is a long time to be out of the workplace. Skillsets become outdated, and expectations have changed as have our organizations.

This “choice” is only magnified by the research showing a bias against mothers in the workplace, which reinforces antiquated thought processes and the leaking talent pipeline for professional women. As the New York Times writes, “A lack of professional advancement for mothers as a result of bias, termed the ‘maternal wall,’ often has a big impact on who makes it to top leadership positions. That in turn determines who’s setting policies that affect younger mothers who are coming up in the work force.”

The definition of “caregiver” is outdated

A Pew research survey found that 59% of U.S. adults believe kids are better off when one parent stays home. Of those adults, 45% say its better if the mother is the parent staying home.

And this story in the Atlantic notes that many companies “have leave policies that are stuck in the past…Workplaces tend to offer much more generous leave for moms than for dads, pushing moms to stay at home and be caregivers, while men are pushed to stay in the office and be the primary earners.”

The majority of companies today only reinforce the social construct where women need to leave the workforce, whether temporarily or permanently, because raising children is primarily their responsibility. The same caregiver inequality exists when it comes to caring for aging parents. As Forbes points out, it’s typically women who take an unequal responsibility in taking care of aging parents.

Add to this that research shows there’s also a bias against working fathers taking what many organizations call paternity leave – so even if employees on an individual level are looking to share the load through co-parenting, there’s a societal and organizational bias pushing back.

The current state reinforces the idea there’s only one main parent, while also reinforcing a gender bias around caregiving. This negatively impacts both family and workplace dynamics.

The structure of families today has drastically changed

Harvard Business Review puts the reality of today’s families into a context with which I strongly agree: “Most companies concentrate their efforts on ‘visible working parents’ — e.g., new biological mothers — focusing all programming on lactation rooms and other relevant supports. While these are positive, laudable steps, they address the problem too narrowly.” Working parents are men and women, biological and adoptive, LGBTQ+, in many different family structures.

The majority of today’s working parent programming provides benefits that aren’t even close to equality for equivalence. Today’s parental leave programs tend to name the mother as the primary caregiver, and there’s a significant gap between the time the primary and secondary caregivers get for leave. One parent shouldn’t be treated as less relevant or important than the other. We have to remove this idea of primary and secondary as it too is outdated and antiquated.

 

If we’re going to stay focused on equality for equivalence, we need to break the mindset that inequality exists only in terms of pay, and the level you’re at in an organization. Part of the equality equation is around the need to exist in the programs we create. I challenge leaders to not simply shift, but fundamentally change their mindsets around what equality truly means. You can choose to sit back and watch other organizations make transformative changes or you can lead the pack. Which is it?

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