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The Subtle Discrimination Parents Face at Work–and 1 CEO’s Effective Solution

The service addresses a sinister bias that typically flies under the radar.

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BY Wanda Thibodeaux - 31 Aug 2018

The Subtle Discrimination Parents Face at Work--and 1 CEO's Effective Solution

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Generally speaking, if you've got kiddos, their school day probably is going to end a few hours before you're supposed to clock out. So what do you do? If you're lucky, you can tap a buddy or family member to watch your offspring until you're done. Maybe there's an after school program or daycare, assuming it's free or you have the cash for it.


But thousands of parents have to go with door number three. They work it out so they can leave earlier in the afternoon, either finding a way to make up their lost hours or just taking the hit and not working full time. Even if you manage to work your 40-hour a week (which benefits often depend on), others still can discriminate, passing you over for projects or promotions because they think you won't be able to bring your best game to the table.


In either case, the financial effect can make you wince. As evidence, Kelli Dragovich, SVP of People at Hired, points to her company's latest State of Wage Inequality in the Workplace report, which exposed the "motherhood penalty". The study found that women between 20-25 years old make 3 percent less than men, with the gap increasing to 10 percent by the time the women are in their 40s.


But it's not just a "ladies issue"


While this problem--the 3:00 p.m. disadvantage--traditionally is associated with women, it would be incorrect to assume men aren't experiencing it, too. With the definition of "family" metamorphosing, there are plenty of single, divorced and adoptive fathers who have to juggle work and childcare schedules, too, as Pew Research Center highlights. Even in a traditional marriage, it's more likely that a household will need to be dual income, meaning that the odds are high that a father will need more schedule flexibility.


A service to fight back


Ritu Narayan, CEO and co-founder of Zm, has had enough. She started her company, which provides reliable rides to children so parents don't have to leave their shift, specifically to let working parents gain more equality. She says that, even in a self-proclaimed "flexible office", unspoken office politics can be at play, forcing parents to miss out on networking and other opportunities.


"There are three reasons I believe the 3:00 p.m. disadvantage is still an issue for many working parents," Narayan says. "An outdated school system, workplace dynamics that set unrealistic expectations for working families and a lack of resources."


The problem, Narayan asserts, is systemic.


"Ultimately, the change has to come first in the form of new societal norms. We have to create a new normal where childcare and after-school duties are equally distributed between both parents. This, coupled with working parents being provided with choice and resources, will help to address how working parents view themselves, and how they are seen by others."


"My vision for Zm," Narayan adds, "is to bring about this change and support child development without requiring anyone in the family to sacrifice their personal and professional aspirations."


"Getting rid of the 3:00 p.m. disadvantage benefits everyone. Parents will be able to feel more balanced [confident and empowered] at home and work [...]. Kids will foster a sense of independence early on while also cultivating their hobbies and talents outside of the classroom. [And] employers will be able to retain a happy and fulfilled workforce [...]."

What your company can do


Dragovich acknowledges that services like Zm are helpful. But she says that ultimately, it comes down to the employer's responsibility to protect employees from parental discrimination.


"With more companies lifting the curtain on workforce demographics," Dragovich says, "it's only a matter of time until companies are increasingly held accountable to demonstrate how they support working parents and encourage transparency around concerns when an environment is not inclusive."


Dragovich asserts that the best solution to the 3:00 p.m. disadvantage is to implement inclusive initiatives at your business. Those initiatives should have C-suite level representation in the decision-making process and be executed thoughtfully by Human Resources. Make sure you're not overlooking any groups, and set goals that measure how "bought in" the team is on creating an office that supports diversity in all its forms.


Secondly, emphasize the small ways available to change overall behavior. For instance, you can host gatherings during working hours so people who have family commitments outside of that time don't have to miss out.


But for best results, build your personal relationships


In my own view, the heart of the 3:00 p.m. disadvantage likely is the idea that presence demonstrates connection and therefore, by extension, commitment. We are, after all, social creatures. That means that, no matter how great your initiatives and logistics are, no matter what service might be available to address the systemic symptom, working on transparency and empathy is crucial, too. The more your team understands what's driving you, what your facing and who you are, the more they feel personally linked to you, the easier it probably will be for them to grasp that you really can--and want--to compete.


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