My 6-year-old was sick a few weeks ago. It started with the normal whine I’m sure most parents are used to hearing on a school day: “I don’t feeeeel goooood.”
I immediately suspected he was faking. He’d been fine the night before. He got a decent night’s sleep. He didn’t look sick — but just as I was about to roll my eyes and tell him, “Too bad, you’re going to school,” he pushed past me and threw up all over the bathroom floor.
OK. Guess he was serious.
I cleaned him up, mopped the floor, got him settled on the couch with cartoons, Saltines and some ginger ale, called the school and got ready to go to work. In this regard, I’m especially lucky. I have the freedom to work from home and I have a great boss-slash-editor who gets it. But I realize not everyone is so lucky.
All I had to do was dash off a quick message: “Hey, my son is sick, so I’m keeping him home from school with me today,” and I was good to go. I don’t have to change much to make this work, aside from moving my laptop to the kitchen table instead of my home office and locking the door if I have to do an interview. My editor and I had a good laugh when I realized it was “Take Your Child to Work Day.” The thing is, all working parents should be that lucky; if we’re going to improve diversity in tech — and that includes increasing the number of women — we have to accommodate working parents. One way to do that is normalizing kids in the workplace.
Sabrina Parsons, who’s been the CEO of Palo Alto Software for 10 years, is a huge advocate of this idea, and she’s been putting it into practice for quite some time. Her three kids have accompanied her to the office and even on business trips, and it’s been of great benefit for her personally, but also her company and her kids.
“The whole concept of ‘Take your child to work day’ is so indicative of how corporate America is still stuck in this post-World War II, Mad Men-type idea of the workplace. That’s so not the reality for the majority of working parents, especially working moms. And there’s a huge number of single working moms — and dads for that matter — who are left out of the conversation altogether. Companies need to have a realistic view of their employees as complete, whole people with lives and families, and help them balance and juggle all of these elements,” Parsons says.
As a CEO, she’s empowered to make child- and family-friendly policies available and accessible to her workforce, because she understands that without them, people would have to make an impossible choice.
“If you have a family member who needs you — whether it’s a sick child, or a parent or a spouse — and you’re not ‘allowed’ to take the time to help them, well, that’s just not right. No one in the world wants to put their company before their family, and if you are a company forcing your employees to make that choice? You’re going to lose, every time, and in every meaningful way,” Parsons says.
You might be able to get away with it for a while, but as soon as a better opportunity comes up, you’d better believe those employees you penalized for taking care of their families are going to walk out the door and never look back. And they’ll tell their friends, their families, their new co-workers — seriously, it’s just the wrong way to do business, Parsons says.
Policies that allow workers to bring their kids with them aren’t as impossible or as disruptive as they sound, either. Older kids can do homework, read, draw or play games on an iPad or a laptop. Parsons and I agreed that the toddler ages, from about 1 to 3, might not work as well, but younger kids and babies sleep a lot — and really, who wouldn’t love to hold a cute baby at work?
Marissa Mayer famously took a whole lot of crap for having a nursery installed next to her office when she took over at Yahoo, but it’s actually a pretty smart idea. If only every working mom had that luxury — and if only the rest of Yahoo’s workforce was able to do that. But, I digress.
It’s also great for the kids. Parsons’ kids have a unique understanding of the inner workings of a software company, and they’re exposed to a lot of different people and experiences, and a completely different side of their mom.
“My kids know how marketing works. They know what the role of software developers is. They’ve put together business plans and come up with their own ideas for products and projects — it’s important for them to be exposed to all this. I think we do our kids a major disservice if we’re not showing them these sides of ourselves, and seeing how you can manage work and life and family at the same time,” Parsons says.
While my own son doesn’t get to come with me to an actual office, he loves talking to me about what I’m working on and who I spoke with on any particular day. On a personal level, he’s learning by watching me multitask, plan, schedule and manage my workload both at home and on the job. He’s also one of my biggest cheerleaders. One day, he informed a woman at the grocery store that his mom is a “famous” magazine writer who “talks to important people and writes stories about technology.” OK, so maybe he inherited my tendency for exaggeration. I also think it’s important for him to grow up seeing women in all of our roles — not just as a mother — because it normalizes it. And we all know Silicon Valley could do with a lot fewer stereotypes and discrimination and lot more women and inclusion.
“It’s going to take all of us talking about these issues and pushing them to the forefront of workplace conversations until it’s just a normal, everyday thing,” Parsons says, and I absolutely agree. “Bring Your Child to Work Day” should be every day.