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Are Parent-Friendly Workplaces Really Fair For Everyone?

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Written by Leslie Kennedy for BabyPost.com

Back when my husband was still my boyfriend and landed his first office job, he became one of a relatively small team of employees, some of whom had children, many of whom did not. I distinctly remember him coming home one day and complaining that the people in the office who had children had it "so much easier."

They got special consideration for 'family' holidays. They missed more work because of sick kids. None of it seemed fair. Ten years later, he's a family man, father of two, and his tune has changed. That's because when our kids are sick, I can't always be the one to stay home. In fact, we both completely agree that caring for our kids is a 50/50 role, and that includes everything from bedtime to discipline to staying home with a sick child.

A recent article in The Globe and Mail by columnist Leah Eichler revealed a statistic that a whopping 40 per cent of non-parents surveyed by Red Magazine in the UK feel they work harder than people with children.

"Employees with kids often get preference when it comes to flexible schedules, greater understanding when it comes to having to leave early and come in late, and the unspoken acceptance of kid-related events being more important than anything that non-parents are doing," said Aimee Fahey, a recruiting consultant and career coach, who does not have children.

A parent gets greater understanding for leaving early and coming in late? If a parent does so repeatedly, my guess is their boss would have something to say about it.

But if I'm late because my kid's school bus is cancelled or leave early because my child is sick, what is the non-parent equivalent where there would be judgment? If an employee feels sick, they'll be allowed to leave just the same. Car broken down? My guess is, similar understanding. Hangover? Late night date? No, you're right, you probably won't get the same understanding.

Parents are subject to the same questions child-free people are about their tardiness and absences. The difference is that, yes, parents have more reasons that this might happen. We can't make our four-year-olds walk to school themselves or walk themselves home from school, let themselves in and boil up some chicken soup.

Fahey recounts a story where she rejected a job offer because it gave preferential treatment to mothers, allowing them to work from home whenever they wanted but did not offer the same consideration to child-free people in the office.

"It was blatant discrimination against me and I rejected the job offer," she said. "They didn't bat an eyelash and I remember them bragging in the interview process about being female-owned. Funny, I guess they were only female friendly if you were called 'mom' by someone," she quipped.

"The bottom line is, parental status should not be allowed to dictate how you're treated in the workplace, the expectations for work output, or the amount of flexibility allowed to do one's job," Ms. Fahey said.

I completely agree that flexibility should not be reserved for a few employees. All work places would benefit from flexibility. Where Fahey and Eichler and I part ways is the whole idea that "they were only female friendly if you were called 'mom' by someone."

Where is the mention of dads? Why does Eichler start and Fahey continue with this anti-woman anti-mom heavy argument against the issue of work place flexibility? Because in my house, it's not just me taking those days. In my house, dad has an equal role. But you don't hear Eichler or Fahey acknowledging that or even suggesting it exists.

Even Eichler, a parent herself, says, "I understood that employees who take parental leave the team with an additional workload -- a lose-lose proposition for this particular employee." But why? Why is that the case? In every job I've ever worked, people are hired to come on to take over that extra work load while a parent, sometimes, though admittedly less often a father, takes parental leave. If there is a burden on a team with a parent taking leave, then the issue is with management not the person taking leave.

The issue we face as parents, isn't that we get breaks. The issue is the perception of the allowances we need. Maybe in a perfect world a two-year-old can take care of themselves when they're sick. But reality (and law) is that they cannot.

So maybe it would benefit everyone, including Eichler and Fahey to acknowledge that this isn't a woman issue. That an article purporting to talk about parents in the workplace but really only talking about the burden put on said work place by mothers is where the problem lies.

It is management that needs to take a hard look at their policies, making sure no staff is burdened by real-life unavoidable personal life situations and requirements. Everyone has them, but yes, I'm sorry, parents have more.

My husband now understands what he questioned all of those years ago. That what looks like a free-pass to have accommodations, is in fact a necessity. That having children does mean that our lives are no longer our own, and that we answer to a boss in the office and responsibilities at home.

The way to appease that 40 per cent isn't pointing fingers at mothers. It IS unfair for a parent to be allowed to work from home whenever they want or need but for a fellow employee to not have that same option. The problem isn't with mothers. It's with people who forget that there are, more often than not, dads in the picture too. People, the author of this column included, need to stop putting the onus and crux of workplace issues at the feet of women.

Management needs to treat employees fairly, to hire mat leave covers, to allow work from home options for people who want it and to give personal-life circumstances the same weight. An adult caring for an ill parent should get the same consideration as a parent with a sick child. And similar understanding from employees.

Likewise, if I miss my alarm constantly and am late because of that, the fact I'm a parent should not excuse that.

It sucks that there's a "downside of parenting policies" as Eichler's column is titled. But the upside far outweighs the downsides, and I say that as both a parent and as an employee. Better I'm allowed to work from home when my child is sick than call in claiming I'm sick and leaving everyone hanging and burdened with my work load.

Workplaces need to be more accommodating overall. There is no doubt about that. But the issue facing work places isn't the increased accommodation to families. The issue is a lack of mutual respect and understanding and the finger pointing at mothers.

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