• Lauren Barker

How to Build a Parent-Friendly Workplace

Mother's Day is coming up soon. Here's how you can make your workplace better for the parents and pregnant coworkers working with you.

The beginning of May comes with a handful of beloved celebrations–the beginning of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, Cinco de Mayo, and even Star Wars Day. For many, this upcoming Sunday, May 8th, is a day to celebrate the mothers in our lives. So in honor of Mother’s Day, we’re here to share our thoughts and advice on building a more comfortable and welcoming workplace for parents and pregnant coworkers, because the topic of parenthood in the workplace is a bit more complicated than it may seem at first glance. Let’s take a look into the challenges facing working parents today.


The Challenges of Being a Parent in the Modern Workforce

From comments about pregnancy to biases and often-forgotten legal requirements, pregnant people and parents face a surprising amount of obstacles while trying to go about their daily work. Let’s take a look at a few examples of these below.


Bias, and the Motherhood Penalty

Women, in particular, face significant bias as a working parent, and they’re often assumed to be less committed to their job simply by being a parent. This is commonly referred to as the Motherhood Penalty. In a recent article on Business Insider, Choncé Maddox notes, “The motherhood penalty is based on a stereotypical view that women are primary caregivers and have a duty to stay at home and raise their children. Mothers who choose to work may be seen as less competent or committed to their jobs.” This penalty can affect a woman’s career in many ways, including getting hired, wages, evaluations, and promotions.


Logistical (and Gender) Issues

All parents face extra demands on their time. Despite this, employers are often reluctant to accommodate working parents with flextime to better balance their lives. In fact, one study found that male employees were more likely to be granted flextime if the reason was to further their career than either female or male employees who wanted flextime to better care for their children. Women face this challenge most often because, in heterosexual relationships, women on average spend substantially more time doing childcare than men do, even when both partners work full time.

The Wage Gap

It is no secret that women in the workforce are still fighting for equal pay. (Read our thoughts on the journey towards gender and pay equity in our recent blog post on Equal Pay Day.) According to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full and part-time workers, women earned only 84% of what men earned in 2020. Combine this with the Motherhood Penalty, and it’s clear that women with children face extra difficulties in achieving fair compensation and raises.

Legal Guidelines on Pregnant Employees

While some of these guidelines should go without saying in 2022, we need to mention the laws that are in place to protect parents and pregnant people in the workplace.


Breastfeeding

Federal law requires employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (for most companies–for more info and to see if you’re covered, take a look at the Dept. of Labor’s Guide) to provide time and private space that is not a bathroom for breastfeeding parents at work to express milk. Despite this, many breastfeeding employees report either failure to provide this accommodation or getting a space with unsanitary conditions. They also experience a toxic workplace culture around pumping, like coworkers trying to peek, or colleagues expressing jealousy over time spent pumping because they view it as “extra break time” on the clock.

Accommodations

According to the EEOC, employers are required to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees due to any medical conditions related to that pregnancy. These might include light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave. Discrimination and harassment on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is illegal.


How to Create a Supportive Workplace for Parents and Pregnant People

What are some simple things you can do to make your workplace better for the parents or pregnant folks working alongside you? Here are a couple key pieces of advice to start with:


Avoid questions that a doctor would be better suited to ask, or other lines of questioning that are invasive, such as how they’re feeling, whether the pregnancy was planned, if they can feel the baby, etc. As a general rule of thumb, never comment on someone’s body or touch their belly.


Don’t ask someone if they’re coming back to work after having the baby. It’s best to assume that they will still be your colleague after giving birth. When it comes to talking about pregnancy and parenthood, let the parent take the lead.


Use inclusive language when discussing pregnancy and parenthood. Not all parents are in an opposite-sex relationship, and many people of all genders are single parents. Plus, women are not the only people who give birth. Some trans men and non-binary people can and do get pregnant. For the most part, we use the term “pregnant people.”

 

Mother’s Day is a great reminder to check in on your company guidelines when it comes to making the workplace a great place for all parents and pregnant people, mothers included.


And if you’re curious about building an inclusive workplace for parents and non-parents alike, check out Ethena’s Courses page for more information.

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A company using Ethena could reasonably expect to face fewer enforcement actions and to be less vulnerable to liability for sexual harassment."

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