I recently wrote an article for Business Insider which has gotten a lot of attention, both good and bad. Since I have written about the topic before, many times, I have to admit that I was surprised to see the traction this article has received. I have been overwhelmed by the number of women, and yes, men who have reached out and thanked me for my article. It has been inspiring to see the my writing and the way I look at business as a working mom resonates with so many people. It has been a fun ride.
But, it has also been surprising to see the criticism from men and women alike on bringing kids into the office. Let me share an excerpt from a particularly critical comment on the article:
If you want to remain CEO, and have three small kids... but you don't want to use day care all the time, because you want to raise them yourself, during the work day... then the answer is not that the rest of the office owes you "day care in your office," as a matter of feminist liberty... Nor do they owe you an allowance of flexibility that provides you with free time that they do not get, and have not asked for.... flexibility which UNDOUBTEDLY makes you less effective in the office: Please explain to the rest of us who have small children how having them in your office with you, without a nanny, does not distract you from your work?
First, let me clarify that any privilege I get in the office, is extended to all employees, which I clearly state in the article. Second, this person has no knowledge of how my kids (or the kids of other employees) interact, behave, or exist in my office environment.
My belief is that you can accommodate kids occasionally (not as a daycare replacement) in order to create a different norm for all working parents. I am lucky and have the means to employ a full-time nanny. But, occasionally I need to be in the office later than my nanny can stay. So, she drops my kids off at the office at 4:45 when her work day ends, and they hang out in my office and read, do homework or quietly play computer games. By having a workplace that is welcoming towards children, I can get my work done, my older children can read and get their homework done, and all of us are together. The last time this happened, was in early December (just for reference for those who picture me dragging my children into the office everyday).
I have also had many people make comments about bringing sick children into the office. Again, I think I need to clarify. A very sick child that is running a fever is not going to be in my office. My husband and I will switch off being at home to take care of that child. But, a child who had a fever within the last 24 hours still can't go to school; they need to rest and get better. They could stay at home with our nanny, but in these cases, I bring them in and set them up on a small inflatable mattress in my office. This way, I can monitor them, they can spend time with their mother, and everyone is happy. I allow them to watch shows and movies while also enforcing periods of naps so that they can get better. I love that I can get my work done and also be there for my children when they need me. I can bring them tea, soup and whatever else they need to get better. Meanwhile, I get much more work done because I am not worrying about my sick child at home. If my child gets worse, then we head home or directly to the doctor's office. Does this type of office environment mean that children can come to work every day instead of daycare? No! It means when an employee needs to have his or her child in the office for whatever reason, our workplace is supportive. Ultimately, the point of my article was that corporate America can and should create a work environment where employees who are parents are allowed to openly be parents, without feeling like they may put their career at risk.
Many people have also commented on my article, or tweeted the article with the opinion that the mere presence of a child in an office is unprofessional. My brother-in-law once commented on how he wished his office had a different attitude towards children. He told me a story about a woman in his office who had her fifth grade daughter dropped off at the office late in the day a few days a week because of transportation issues. Her daughter would quietly do her homework and read. Yet, other employees whispered amongst themselves on how "unprofessional" it was for this woman to do this. Also, based on what my brother-in-law told me, this woman was not advancing her career in the eyes of her colleagues (and probably her bosses) by having her daughter come into the office in the late afternoon. This attitude is exactly what my article was advocating changing. There is nothing unprofessional about a woman who is committed to her job while still wanting to be a good parent.
My company does not suffer because of my policies. In fact, we benefit. Never have I told a parent of a sick child, or one that has daycare issues, that they must come to work. But, if allowing employees to bring kids (again not every day, and only in appropriate situations) gives them peace of mind and allows them to be good parents and employees, then I'm all for it. All parents are parents first and I think it is ridiculous for any employer to ever think or demand otherwise. If we create situations where parents know they are allowed to openly and publicly be parents first, then we help change the paradigm and help make the work/life balance easier for everyone. I strongly believe that including children appropriately into the working world will benefit everyone.
By the way -- the picture I used is from my office. A real employee, with his daughter!