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Creating Diverse, Equitable & Inclusive Work From Home Policies for Parents Through COVID-19 & Beyond

Jul 16, 2020
5 min read

In early March, as shelter-in-place orders were rolled out across the country, I was traveling in California with my 4-year-old daughter

My home in New York never seemed so far away.

I immediately moved up our flight and strategized bribes I could use to keep her from rubbing her face and hands all over the plane windows and surfaces: unlimited Tic Tacs, chips, and Disney movies did the trick. I was deeply relieved when we landed and were finally home.

Then, our new reality set in.

Beyond the safety and comfort of our home (which is a huge privilege in itself, considering that for many, home doesn’t exist, and/or is not a safe place to shelter in), there wasn’t much we were “coming back” to.

School, weekend activities, and playdates were all suspended, and for a little girl whose most quoted phrase is “who’s coming to our house?” — this was no small adjustment.

Figuring out how to continue my full time job while suddenly becoming a homeschool (or as I like to call it — ”crisis-school” teacher); providing logistical support to my family who are essential workers or immunocompromised; and offering emotional support to friends and community struggling with isolation — has been difficult, to say the least.

As we prepare for fall, many offices and businesses are reopening. They are thinking of new protocols for customers and clients needing to be physically present and reimagining open office layouts to reduce communal spaces and contact.

But, many schools, day cares, and camps remain closed, partially-running, or running intermittently.

This leaves many parents concerned about, negotiating, and reimagining the entire next year of their lives. And with a fall virus resurgence looming in the distance and new cases still on the rise in many parts of the country, it’s becoming less and less likely to expect a “normal” school year will start in September, January, and even beyond.

So what do we do?

How do we bridge the gap between the potential of work opening and school not? Or the reality of returning to a physical work or school environment when we might not feel safe doing so?

All of these factors can make life feel extremely overwhelming for parents right now.

While the nearly-impossible conditions of working from home while “homeschooling”/crisis-schooling children at the same time may give us plenty to complain about — as someone who works with People Leaders and HR providers, I’m also aware of how unlikely it is that even the most well-intentioned employers can anticipate parents’ needs in this unprecedented time.

After all, our needs vary greatly by household.

Ideally, employers can use this moment as an opportunity to revisit and upgrade policies that support parents with young children.

I’d be amiss without including the added layer of companies suddenly feeling the pressure to take a more active role in antiracist and inclusion work. There is plenty of intersectionality to dig into here when it comes to all of our overlapping identities: as parents with young children; as parents with young children with the privilege of working from home, as Black parents with young children who may or may not be working from home, etc.,

The truth is, although the demand is overwhelming, most of us can’t expect our companies to create perfect-fit scenarios for either overnight, or truly even anytime soon.

In the meantime, rather than feeling like you have to hide your overwhelm as a parent, or craft your exit strategy while fuming about the way you’re being treated right now, I invite People Leaders and employers to open up space for communication amongst their teams.

Don’t make assumptions about the barriers people are facing. Ultimately, from what I can gather, the #1 thing employees want right now is flexibility.

If you can, consider redirecting budgets to invest in your people (rather than say, talent acquisition budgets, office space, etc.)

And for those of us who are in jobs that are not the most supportive of our needs as parents right now, rather than just making complaints — consider making requests, instead.

We’re all learning and adjusting, and the more open communication teams can have around what is working for them, and what is not — the better companies can reshape policies to retain talent during these difficult times, while preparing themselves for the future.

So, parents, ask yourselves: what is really in our way?

When we’re overwhelmed, it can be difficult to articulate our needs, but without doing so, we’re unlikely to see our conditions change.

Is it that your kid is slamming your laptop closed when you’re trying to send an email? Or is it that even when you do have a couple hours to work during nap time, you still find it hard to focus? Which times of the day are you most productive? Which parts of the day do your children want the most from you?

Taking some time to observe these patterns can help us strategize an action plan, and make requests from our employers to make things livable for the next few months.

If we’re lucky enough to work in workspaces that listen, when we collectively share our learnings, observations, and truths as parents throughout this pandemic, we can not only help create policies that actually work for all of us in the long term, but help build trust and team relationships at the same time.

This article was inspired by conversations with WRK360, a training and development platform for working parents, managers and teams to help parents thrive at work and at home. Check out their COVID-19 plan for parents in our Pandemic-Proof DEI Toolkit here.

Samira Abdul-KarimSamira Abdul-Karim

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader | Co-Founder of Hyphens and Spaces