Psychological Safety Is Faltering For Working Parents - Companies Need to Step Up
Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.
Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.
Fear Of Being A Parent At Work
I’m a Latina mother and the first in my family to have graduated from college. Education is important to me and I want to instill this importance onto my elementary-aged children. I’d like to set aside part of the afternoon to help my kids with their online course work (my company has a flexible work policy for COVID), but I’m hesitant to do so because I don’t want to come across as “compromised.” How can I ensure my manager I’m a committed employee and a committed parent?
I wish you didn’t have to ask this question. When you have to worry about appearing less committed to your job because of your role as a caregiver, we (as a society) have a problem. Fear in the workplace is a litmus test for inequity.
“Fear” in this sense will mean different things for different people. Is it expensive to be yourself at work? If so, then your workplace cultivates fear—and that means there’s room to improve on the diversity, equity, and inclusion spectrum¹.
Based on what you said, it sounds like you would answer affirmatively to the question above because you’re hesitant to bring your full self—a mother, a first-generation college grad, a Latina, etc—to work. After a careful review of the data, it’s not hard to see why that is.
New Data Highlights Challenges Of Working Parents
A September study of over 1,000 parents in the US found that:
57% fear they will be the first to be adversely impacted by organizational restructuring
54% fear their chances of receiving a promotion are diminished due to heightened caregiving responsibilities
54% feel guilty when working because they cannot attend to caregiving needs, meanwhile...
43% feel guilty when they are caregiving because they cannot attend to work responsibilities.
42% fear using employer-sponsored childcare benefits if they are available
41% of working mothers and 36% of working fathers hide their caregiving roles
39% fear termination if they ask for help
38% fear being penalized for being a parent
Do you notice a trend among the data? Fear of retaliation, feeling guilty for who you are, hiding your identity—these are not good indicators of psychological safety. Psychological safety matters because, well, it comes with a cost.
Employees in less psychologically safe workplaces take 43% more sick days per month and are significantly less productive than employees in psychologically safe workplaces (costing less psychologically safe companies $1,400 per employee per year).
Moreover, Google’s massive People Operations research, conducted as part of their endeavor “to build the perfect team,” pointed to psychological safety as the most critical factor underpinning successful teams.
It doesn’t bode well for companies when the psychological safety of one-third of their talent pool (parents) is faltering. And it certainly doesn’t bode well for companies when working moms, who are the most productive employees over the course of their careers, are being pushed out of the labor force by rising demands on the home front.
The Economic Impact Of Lower Labor Force Participation
As a Latina, you’re also up against some unique hurdles ². For instance, 63% of Latina mothers are concerned they will have to cut their paid work hours, switch to part-time, or quit their jobs to attend to caregiving needs—compared to “only” 41% of White mothers with the same concern.
These hurdles are not just “in your head.” We see them playing out in real life economic data. Most recently, the October jobs report revealed that Latinas are facing higher levels of unemployment than other segments of the labor force:
All women: 6.5%
All men: 6.6%
Hispanic women: 8.9%
Hispanic men: 8.2%
To be certain, various factors influence the unemployment rate and we cannot attribute it entirely to mothers downshifting their careers. However, the downshift is significant: working moms are cutting back their hours at four to five times the rate of working dads to care for school-aged children.
We can measure the impact of such a downshift in dollars and cents. In fact, even if only 1% of mothers permanently left the workforce, US families would miss out on $8.7 billion in wages annually. Worse, if the labor force participation rate among mothers persists post-COVID, the wages of US families would shrink by $64.5 billion per year.
Is There A Solution For Working Parents?
Of course, this isn’t your problem to solve. It’s a structural imbalance that requires a system-wide solution. Your original question about how to prove your worth as a parent in the workplace is indicative of this.
In the meantime (structural changes take time), I encourage you to equip yourself with data. It goes without saying that working parents—and our economy at large—are in a state of crisis. You are not alone. As business and policy leaders, we must continue our endeavor to a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive world.
¹ I say spectrum because DEI is not a binary setting. It’s not a yes or a no, you-either-achieved DEI-or-not. It’s a journey. All of us, all of our organizations, are on a journey to Equity for All ®.
² This is known as intersectionality: understanding the unique experiences of cohorts that represent two or more identities (in this case gender + race/ethnicity).
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