Mister Rogers is having a comeback, but do you know your neighbors? Do you know their names? Would you ask them for advice? What about your co-workers?
Odds are, you know your colleagues better than your neighbors. We spend huge chunks of our lives at the office, even virtually. Our always on work culture and ‘fun’ office perks mean we’re spending more time than ever with our co-workers. The office has become our neighborhood.
It’s no surprise, then, that we look to our coworkers for support. It seems like pretty much everything has become an event worth celebrating at the office (national donut day? Why not). Yet parenthood has been largely left out of workplace conversations. We’re more likely to get advice on a March Madness bracket than about a newborn, a toddler, or – gasp – a teenager.
I recently spoke with a new mom at a large financial firm who relied on finding other moms by searching the office for pumping gear. Her experience was isolating, lonely and in many ways biased, but sadly neither unusual nor surprising. Her company should have had a system to connect her with other working parents. In a world where you know every detail of one co-workers Intermittent Fasting or CrossFit, you may not even know that another coworker has kids. Why?
Parents are famously reticent to talk about their families at work, and for good reason. Parenthood remains the single largest career off-ramp, pregnancy discrimination is alive and well, parenthood has been tied to the gender wage gap, and implicit biases pervade societal norms.
Yet, slowly, we are seeing changes. Though paid leave, fertility, and women’s health benefits are increasingly being adopted, fostering community for working parents is a large missing piece of the solution. Parents are told to ‘speak-up’, to be open about parenting, to share what they’re going through. I agree, talking openly is key to changing office culture. But as a working parent, the people I most want to talk with are other working parents. Why isn’t that happening at the office?
It’s clear that the office will continue to be our neighborhood and forward thinking companies are adapting to meet the demands of work-life integration. Given this reality, companies need to address ways to build community for working parents. While a company onesie is adorable, it’s not the supportive, understanding, and helpful conversation that I so deeply crave. If it takes a village to raise a kid, and companies have become our village, then building a town square for parents should be the goal.