Accepting v. Tolerating Mothers Back into the Workforce by Reyes Beard
Currently there is (thankfully) a reverberating groundswell of conversation calling for businesses to welcome and accommodate women in the workforce post partum. And not only women, but families as well.
For the first time, we are seeing images projected out to the world of babies being fed in Parliament, newborns attending UN meetings and sleeping babes in a carrier as mumma does the weather forecast. To some, these might seem like trivial gestures or a novelty, and to others (myself included) it is empowering. However you choose to view these images, they are so important because each time we see one of them it shifts the norm, beckoning a new way forward for the modern family.
But what does this actually mean? The notion of accepting new parents in the workforce is a noble sounding one; but to actually put this in motion and fulfil the needs of working parents and mothers in particular - what does this actually look like?
I run my own marketing consultancy, and throughout this journey to motherhood and then becoming a mother and full time worker, I’ve had the (most often) pleasure and sometimes displeasure of working with a wide range of people, across varied industries.
The overwhelming majority of people that I come across genuinely want to embrace the notion of a working mum and will happily accommodate my little person during meetings and be understanding and flexible as best as they know how.
These past months of being a full-time director of my business and a full-time mum to my baby girl have been an interesting development and learning what it actually takes from both sides of the coin to make this process actually work
In my experience, there tends to be two types of businesses/people that are happy to explore working this way; those that tolerate and those that accept.
Those that tolerate will ”allow” you to bring your child along, however, you and your child will sit there like a snuggly swaddled elephant in the room, uncomfortably bypassing the presence of your child altogether. (BONUS TIP: trigger word ”situation” - anyone that refers to the wild notion of being a parent and working as ”your situation” - get out now)
Those that accept will greet both of you, understanding that there is an actual small person in the room whose needs have nothing to do with with the working agenda but still need to be met on time. They may notice your baby nuzzling and say ”if she needs a feed don't let us stop you” or simply ask to hold and engage with your child in the knowledge that for the time being, you're in business with two people and the forming of relationships are an important part of the process.
There are a few key shifts in the way we think about a working environment that need to be made to give the process the best chance of a positive outcome.
Letting go of the notion that an employee needs to be sitting near you to be able to work; keep contact hours to only what is completely necessary and allow for remote work.
Meetings: don’t expect a new mum to be available or to make time for every single meeting, try keep in person meetings to critical agendas. Uprooting the day for a 3 hour round trip for a meeting that could have been a phone call benefits no one. Mummas; don’t be pressured into catch ups that you know are unnecessary or pushing yourself or bubba to politely sit through a meeting that you know is detrimental to either of you (i.e.: makes you skip a feed or significantly push out a sleep)
As a business or boss or employee/contractor be prepared to humanise your workplace: the notion of a sanitised, walled workplace, where personal doesn’t mix with business and keeping the facade of purely “professional” appearances needs to be let go of. As an employee/contractor you will be vulnerable and showing another side (also possibly your boobs and mum voice) to your colleagues, so be prepared for this as it can be quite a mentally difficult position to be in.
As a business, you cannot assume a “children should be seen and not heard” stance. There will likely be times that a baby may need to feed or that they may become frightened, agitated or simply trying to engage and they will vocalise the only way they know how - yes, this may be a sound that echoes through the meeting room like nothing else because it is so completely foreign within that space, but it is only temporary and doesn’t need to hijack the work. If a group of adults can not reconcile their emotions, empathise, gather their thoughts and be able to stay on task while there is a baby in the room then you’ve got some serious workplace cultural issues that need to be addressed.
The physical barriers to working logistics are one thing (like having a quiet place to be able to feed or express if needed), but it's the mentality of what a workplace is ”supposed” to look like, along with how a working professional is ”supposed” to act that form the biggest hurdle over come.
Reyes is an Adelaide based Marketing & PR consultant with a career that is a colourful mosaic of people and places; with over a decade of industry experience and a career that has taken her interstate and across the waters, her story is as interesting as her name. Having gone from strength to strength running her consultancy for four years, she's sticking to a promise she made herself when branching out; use her platform and expertise to empower people and challenge the way we think about work.