How to Tell if an Employer Actually Supports Working Parents (Before You Accept an Offer) was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
Maybe you’ve got a dream job prospect dangling right in front of you or perhaps you’re feeling ready for a new challenge, a different boss, or a change of scenery and it’s time to find a new gig.
As a working parent going through any job search or interview process, you’ll find yourself wondering: Is this an environment that supports working parents? Do I really want to hang my professional hat here as a mom or dad completely devoted to my kids? Will this organization allow me to be both the employee and the parent I want to be?
In the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with hundreds of parents around the world as a researcher, adviser, and fellow working parent. After working as a human capital expert and executive coach, I founded Workparent, a specialist coaching and training firm, and in 2021, I published Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids.
So I know that to answer all those questions and discern whether a company is truly supportive of working parents, you have a number of information sources at your disposal. Here they are, in rough ascending order of usefulness and reliability.
Table stakes—nothing more. If there isn’t some kind of statement about “work-life balance” or how the organization “wants employees to lead full lives” or how there’s a working-parent employee network group—something—then take it as a red flag.
If any major website or magazine has cited the organization you’re thinking about working for on its annual list of “best companies for working parents” (or similar), that’s a nice, encouraging sign, although far from a definitive one.
Typically, the organizations included on those lists have to jump through major hoops to apply for the honor, and the ones that do are usually either 1) the most media- and PR- savvy or 2) the most panicked about a negative reputation among working-parent talent. Most typically, they’re both.
In general, the criteria used for judging those lists are also heavily weighted toward leave, postpartum, and other female-friendly, early-childhood-type benefits, which may not be helpful to you if you’re male, the parent of older children, etc. So take citations like this into account, but take them with a big old grain of salt.
These crowdsourced sites, like the awards and recognitions mentioned above, will likely provide some color and context, but should never be your only source of information. Many organizations deliberately massage their profiles on those sites (by giving employees incen- tives to write in positive comments, for example), and many disgruntled current or past employees use the sites as outlets for complaints and bitterness. Thus, for any given organization, you often see a strange “barbelling” of opinion as to the organization’s treatment of working moms and dads. Again, read up, but don’t use this information to come to a firm opinion.
As soon as you get an offer, ask to see the organization’s full benefits summary or employee handbook. What’s provided in terms of parental leave? Flexibility? Particular programs or assistance for families with older kids? Are those benefits offered to all employees? Have they been updated and upgraded in the past few years? How so? What you’re looking for here is:
- If the organization is up to the market standard in its offerings
- If it’s evolving with the times
- If it appears to be making a holistic, creative effort to reduce the overall headwinds faced by working parents
(If you’d like to narrow down your options right off the bat, you can use The Muse’s job search page to filter for openings at companies that offer maternity leave, paternity leave, flexible work hours, and other benefits and perks you value as a working parent.)
How many of the folks running the organization have kids? How many are in two-career couples? Do they mention their families in their official bios or have they at public events or in past media interviews? Do they serve on the boards of working parent–relevant nonprofits? Are they involved in working parent–related programs at the organization? This kind of research is far from precise, but it may help you develop an overall sense as to whether or not the people running the joint are “with it” and attuned to working-parent issues.
Do your interviewers have family photos at their desks? Do they mention family responsibilities? Activities outside the office? What’s your gut feeling as to how “normalized” working parenthood is in this organization? How comfortable are people acknowledging their lives outside? These observations are powerful barometers of day-to-day working-parent experiences at this company.
Just as you background- and reference-checked your childcare provider, you should do so with any prospective employer by speaking with working parents who work or have worked at the organization. Questions to think about asking:
- On a scale of one to 10, how workparent-friendly is this organization?
- Do mothers and fathers here have different experiences? (You want to assess if the workparent friendliness is genuine and inclusive of all parents, not just mothers.)
- What is it like to return from leave? Manage a sick child’s care?
- How bureaucratic or rigid is the place in terms of flexible work arrangements? Does a flex-work arrangement require filling out a gazillion forms in triplicate, or are you treated as a mature and contributing adult, permitted to make your own decisions?
- How were parents treated and communicated with throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? Would you describe management’s response to the difficulties working parents faced during that time as forthcoming, supportive, solutions-focused, helpful? If not, why?
Asking these questions can help you get a sense of what your experience as a working parent at this organization might be like, since the past is the best way to predict the future.
If any aspect of working parent–life is particularly important to you, and you’re not getting the answers or context you need to make a good career decision, then ask. If that feels awkward, then play things forward and think how much more awkward it’s going to be trying to find out the answer—or worse, getting an answer that doesn’t work for you—once you’re already on board.
No matter the shifts in your life or career, your identity as a working parent—a person every inch as committed and capable on the job as you’ve always been and 100% devoted to your role as mother or father—is unassailable. It doesn’t change as your child grows or as you change jobs or careers. By turning to these sources of information during your job search, you can make sure your next employer understands that—and can provide the supportive environment you need to thrive—before you accept an offer.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Adapted from Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids. Copyright 2021 Daisy Dowling. All rights reserved.