When was the last time a co-worker assailed you with a tale about their kids? Perhaps they even threw in a few photos on their phone for good measure. As a dad myself, I’m sure I’ve been as guilty as anyone of sometimes mistaking polite interest for encouragement to unleash yet another story about my son eating grass. Shocking as it seems to us proud parents, most people would probably rather just get on with their job.
Consequently, my eye was drawn to this week’s story on the BBC, which confirmed that talking about your kids at work is a big no no. Yet the reason is rather more serious than simply sparing colleagues another ‘hilarious’ anecdote about nappy changing. Instead, like so many things seem to be these days, the topic was discussed through the lens of gender balance.
The article begins by suggesting that unlike men, many women feel duty bound to limit the amount they discuss their children at work. In some cases, they even opt to conceal the fact they have them completely. Why? For fear it will be seen as evidence of a lessening commitment and ultimately impinge upon their career prospects. Certain stats appear to back it up too, with the Fawcett Society finding that 46% of us believe a woman becomes less committed to her job after having a baby. The corresponding figure for men is 11%.
Whether or not this is an accurate picture (and the article goes on to present an alternative, more positive viewpoint), it is depressing reading. In a world where it’s possible to work from virtually anywhere and have face-to-face meetings with people in separate continents without leaving your desk, how can that kind of anachronistic view still exist in any modern business?
Fortunately, I can say from my own experience that Edelman is no such place. There are a number of women across the firm – many of them in senior leadership roles – who are living proof that, here, it is possible to build both a family and a rewarding career at the same time. Likewise since becoming a dad, I’ve received considerable support in shifting to a part-time role that gives me Wednesdays at home with the kids – something I know other male colleagues are also doing.
And that, for me, is the point. This isn’t about women v men or even the ongoing existence of unconscious bias. It’s about understanding that traditional family roles are fundamentally changing. Most mums don’t just stay at home and lots of dads don’t only ‘do parenting’ at weekends. To retain the brightest and best people, companies therefore have to be flexible and fleet of foot enough to reflect that in their operating model.
Whether it’s a mum or dad needing to leave for the nursery pick-up or someone else wanting to get to their art class on time, having commitments outside of work are not an inhibitor to doing a good job. If anything, it indicates the kind of balanced lifestyle and well-rounded personality generally needed to succeed, certainly in an industry like communications. After all, our job is to talk to people – from Baby Boomers to Millennials – in ways that are engaging and relevant to their lives. It follows, then, that our workforce should be able to reflect and empathise with our audiences’ diversity.
Besides, whether parent or Pokémon Go fan (are those two things mutually exclusive?), having a life outside the office is why most of us come here in the first place. And no amount of baby talk at the water cooler is going to change that.