Retaining key talent is so important to any legal department’s long-term strategy. Many leaders often forget that the small touches can be so vital when understanding what can keep a wanted employee on the team. Today, I want to discuss how to erase the stigma of the working parent.
During my early years as a new parent, I was a law firm associate at an AmLaw 100 firm. Everyone at the firm knew that I had kids—they had seen me work through pregnancy and during my leaves—and the firm I worked for was very supportive, allowing for a part-time adjustment of billable hours to help take the sting out of the day-to-day billing requirements. I still felt the need to maintain the illusion of being ever present, however. If one of my children was sick, I would work from home, and depending on with whom I was working (and understanding their views of parenthood), I would sometimes share why I was at home—or not.
When I moved to the recruiting world about a decade ago, some of those parental pressures eased. I was overall able to make my own schedule. However, as recruiters, clients’ needs are still our primary concern, and we make ourselves available to work with our clients on their schedules. Recently, I was unable to schedule an early morning meeting as my spouse was out of town and I needed to drive my teens to school. I shared that I am generally available at all times, but the one early morning slot that they had sent didn’t work for me due to school drop offs. The client understood, but I was struck by whether I should have been honest or just said that that time didn’t work.
This harkened back to an experience I had where, again, my husband was traveling and I had a conflict with an early morning client meeting, which conflicted directly with the time I needed to drop my kids off at school and travel to the appointed meeting place. I had previously shared that I would need to arrive late to the meeting. When I arrived around 20 minutes late, I apologized again. One of the clients (a more experienced female lawyer) asked why I had needed to be late to the meeting and I shared that my husband was traveling and that I needed to take my kids to school and then travel to the meeting. She immediately stopped me and said, “You should never share that childcare or getting kids to school is a reason for not attending. You should have instead said you had another client meeting.” Honestly, I was dumbfounded and responded to her that I understand that may be how many people would have handled such a conflict in the past, but that I felt it was important to be honest and to try to destigmatize some of the challenges of being a working parent.
But is honesty the best policy? It should be.
I read a statistic that in 2016, approximately 30% of the workforce was working parents. The reality is that sometimes the needs of our children need to come before our jobs and vice versa. It is a balancing act that needs to adjust day to day. It should be okay to share that our kids are sick, we need to take them to the doctors or they have a performance at school. After a year of lockdown and virtual learning during the pandemic, no one should be surprised by their clients having children or having to make adjustments to meet other needs in their life. Sharing this normalizes this key responsibility and removes the stigma. No one should be ashamed or uncomfortable acknowledging the other parts of their life.
How can we, as leaders, incorporate this into practice? Be open, be honest, be up front. Allow your employees and team mates to be open about their needs, their wants and what is really happening in their day to day lives both in work and outside of work. By allowing your team to be fully in at work while also fully in with their families, you give them a reason to stay and be fully satisfied while being themselves.