Pictured: Parent working remotely with child in lap/champpixs, iStock
Support for parents in the workplace is a hotly-debated topic in the U.S., especially as American women are having fewer children and waiting longer than previous generations to start having them.
This uptick in child-free workers was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a 2021 survey by CNBC, about one-quarter of older millennials said the pandemic caused them to wait longer to have children, and 19% said it made them decide not to have children at all.
For the life sciences industry, a Diversity and Inclusion Survey BioSpace conducted in March 2022 showed there was almost an even split between parents and child-free staff. Of the respondents, 53.7% said they have childcare responsibilities, while 46.2% did not.
For those who were already parents going into the pandemic, many companies granted additional benefits, like extra time off or flexible working hours to care for children at home. In response, many child-free employees, including those at Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce, told their employers they feel these additional benefits favor parents and force child-free workers to pick up the slack.
One for All, Not All for One
As the number of Americans who plan never to have kids grows, employers will be forced to figure out how to support parents at work without alienating their child-free staff.
Barbara Palmer is the founder of Broad Perspective Consulting and the Your 4th Trimester Program, which helps parents transition back into the workplace after having a child.
She told BioSpace that it’s time for companies to look beyond the traditional approach to support working parents. For life sciences companies, she said, this is especially important, as they focus on improving health and should “lead by example.”
“It is incumbent for life sciences companies to go beyond standard wellness, mental health and traditional benefits to walk the talk,” Palmer said.
While this support often includes measures like additional PTO for parents or on-site childcare services, Palmer said there are ways to support parents without favoring them—by extending certain perks to the rest of the staff.
For example, companies could offer a wellness stipend, which parents could use to supplement their childcare costs but can also be used for other services, like gym memberships, ergonomic office equipment or meal delivery. Another option is a professional development stipend, Palmer said, which could be used for attending conferences, continuing education or coaching for parents on how to transition back into the workplace.
“Parents may choose differently from single or partnered employees, but everyone benefits by choosing what is personally important to them,” Palmer said.
Parental Support and DEI
Though some see parental support in the workplace as special treatment, many others see it as a way to support diversity, equity and inclusion within an organization. This is especially true in relation to policies like paid parental leave, which is required in many other countries but not the U.S.
To that end, Forbes reported that parental leave policies reduce employee turnover rates, encourage productivity, help companies attract and retain talent and help promote DEI initiatives.
Katie McCann, the founder of From Bump To Bubble, agreed that offering benefits that everyone can use is essential to fostering an inclusive workplace.
However, she told BioSpace over email that this shouldn’t come at the expense of working parents. She said supporting parents, particularly mothers returning to work after maternity leave, can signal to all employees that the company prioritizes both physical and mental health.
One way to do this, she said, is to provide high-quality breast pumps to mothers and ensure access to a private space for breastfeeding or pumping. “This not only supports breastfeeding mothers but also sends a strong message about the company’s commitment to employee wellbeing,” McCann said.
She added that employers can also provide access to mental health support, which can be used by all staff, but is particularly important for new parents who may be at risk for postpartum depression.
McCann and Palmer agreed that supporting parents in the workplace doesn’t have to be polarizing, and Palmer emphasized that supporting the health of employees, especially those in the life sciences, is essential.
“Allowing employees the autonomy to use benefits, stipends and time to support what is important to them as an individual reinforces the very purpose of life sciences companies,” Palmer said. “Prioritizing the holistic health of employees supports their mission and demonstrates that they are living their values.”
Rosemary Scott is an editor at BioSpace, focusing on the job market and career development for professionals in the life sciences. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and on LinkedIn.