Founder & CEO, parents@work
Allegory: Thank you for sunshine (Beautiful day)
When looking for my answer to this question, I tried to reflect on what was “holistic” about my approach to business or health, as if it were a special branch of wellbeing, something different or new. But what I’ve realised is that I see holistic simply as wholeness. It is not something new, or for a select few. It is fundamental to us as human beings. Because the opposite of wholeness is brokenness.
My own personal experience with brokenness is as a young mother, trying to find my way with one of the greatest contradictions: being both a loving, nurturing mother and a professional, successful businesswoman. The world wanted me to choose between these two roles, and too many expected me to fail for trying to do both.
A few months after my second daughter was born, I recall approaching my manager to ask for more responsibility, feeling ready for a new challenge. I received this question in return: Sarah, you must decide: do you want to be a mother or have a career? I had no response to this question. How can I choose between having blue eyes or brown hair? Both are undeniable parts of the whole. For sure, sometimes we need more support, like when we return to work as a new parent. But we should never need to hide or apologise for who we are, never pretend to be just a broken part of our whole selves for the benefit of others.
Too many mothers have told me they were advised to hide their children while at work. Too many times I see working parents hiding their challenges, struggling with guilt and doubts, pushing themselves to the edge, quietly, so as not to draw attention.
While in reality they are fulfilling one of society’s most important tasks – raising the next generation.
Supporting working parents is the right thing to do. But companies are not only there to “do the right thing”. They are also “for profit”. So, why should companies dedicate resources towards supporting working parents? Companies that think holistically, that include the whole person in their people strategy, will significantly improve employee engagement, which can be directly linked to improved performance. Parents are not niche! The data shows that by the age of 45, 82% of women will become parents. Parents are a substantial group within the workplace, and when employers invest in them as individuals, when they are encouraged and supported to bring their whole selves to work, as professionals and parents, they feel recognised, they feel valued, they feel more connected to their employer who has demonstrated shared values. Not only do companies benefit from a more engaged workforce where employees are empowered to perform to their full potential, but championing working parents to stay on their career path could provide the solution to one of the problems of today: how to improve gender diversity, especially in senior roles. Too many women step back or step out of the workplace right when they should be stepping up the career ladder because they face the same choice I did; do you want to be a mother or have a career? Imagine the impact on the pipeline of female talent if mothers were empowered to do both?
If I look back at my early years as a mother, I am both sad and encouraged. I am sad that it took me so long to find my way. And I know that many parents are still struggling on their own today, worrying, as I did, that they’re not doing enough at home and not doing enough at work.
I am encouraged because I have (mostly) found my way to combine work and family! I don’t apologise anymore for caring deeply about both, and as I build up my business today, I am also grateful for the family life my husband and I have created. It has not been without sacrifices and challenges, and sometimes it’s messy, but it is possible to be both.
Parents can prioritise family AND be successful in business.
Businesses can do the right thing AND increase profit.
I have never been more convinced. Not only is it possible to combine contradicting elements of our lives; our lives and our businesses are richer because of the contradictions.
Sometimes I think the workplace is still designed for a bygone era, where fathers were the breadwinners and mothers stayed at home to care for the household. Today society has changed, and families come in all shapes and sizes. Mothers want to have successful careers, and fathers want to have time with their children.
It sometimes feels scary to speak up, to question and disrupt the accepted norms. But if I don’t, who will? So, I ask you today, what beliefs are we holding on to, that no longer serve our businesses, no longer serve our families? Should mothers still always be the primary caregiver? Could children benefit from equal time with both parents? Could employees lead in part-time roles? Is it possible to care deeply about work and family at the same time? Must women change to solve the gender diversity problem, or could and should organisations change instead?
These questions might not be easy to answer, or comfortable to explore. Change is never easy. I hope my questions will encourage people and companies to look at things from a different perspective. AND I am not satisfied with only asking the questions. With parents@work, we bring practical solutions for companies and leaders that are simple to implement, with outcomes that move us closer to the workplace we all wish for.
What contribution can we all make?
Is not brokenness too high a price to pay, and the opportunity for companies too great to pass over? When we all combine our voices, ask for change, insist on urgency, that is when we will be heard. If my story resonates with you, then take action, share your story, ask a difficult question, encourage a working parent to stop hiding, and see what we can achieve together!
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