Have you ever made the best decision of your life, only to worry about discussing it with your peers? Eight months ago, when my husband and I started the process of bringing home our son from China, that’s exactly what happened. After all, despite their performance, tenure, or a proven ability to handle a rigorous workload, women continue to face discrimination for choosing to become mothers. Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978) making it illegal to fire women for becoming pregnant, employers still do it. What’s worse, there are no laws that protect subtle forms of discrimination against parents in the workplace, and there is even less language that formally addresses the rights and protections for parents of adopted children.
With social responsibility initiatives taking center-stage for corporations across the globe, isn’t it time companies took a closer look at how they’re advocating for the parents that give them 40+ hours per week? In this article, I’m offering four actionable ideas to companies (and the people that work for them) to become better advocates for adoptive parents.
Create adoption parental leave
We’re set to bring home our son in the next few months and the company I work for makes it easy to know exactly what benefits I have as a new mother. Unfortunately, there are companies that continue to rank biological children higher than adopted children, offering longer parental-leave benefits for biological parents and reduced time off for adoption. This sends the wrong message — that one form of parenting requires less time for bonding, despite repeated studies showing this is not the case.
Though my days may not be spent with round the clock feedings, they will certainly be spent comforting, consoling, and helping a child adapt to his new life with us. In the United States, parents don’t get near the time they deserve to bond with their children; however, companies can make this easier by supporting policies that give parents — regardless of their avenue to parenthood — the same time to bond with their child. Do an audit of your parental leave policy and make sure it’s equal for all families.
Choose words wisely
I know a woman who caught an oversight in a parental leave policy, and then swiftly took action to advocate for a better solution. Moreover, she went the extra mile to call me to talk through the scenario to better understand my opinion, as someone living the experience.
In this particular example, the policy specified that the primary caregiver was entitled to a certain number of days off, while the secondary caregiver had a reduced number. The problem with that line of thinking is that, in adoption, both parents are the primary caregivers (one could argue that both parents, in any situation, should be the primary caregivers). Sadly, this type of language perpetuates antiquated ideas about roles within the family. More often than not, women are the ones who assume the role of the primary caregiver while men continue to advance in their career with less bias.
In adoption, both parents taking an active role in the early bonding phase isn’t just a nice idea — it’s crucial to the long-term success of your child match. By doing a quick scan of your policies to make sure the language doesn’t promote unconscious bias, you can advocate for all parents to take full part in the child-rearing process.
Know that kind words can hurt, too
About a month ago, I had a female peer within my network (thankfully, not at my current company) ask me if I planned to stay in a management role as a new mother. After the initial shock wore off, I realized this question isn’t uncommon. Moreover, I’ve encountered invasive questions related to our reasoning to adopt a child. It’s hard to focus on growing the sales pipeline when you get stopped in the bathroom to talk about why you chose adoption instead of giving birth. At the end of the day, I firmly believe that people don’t intend to be malicious — they want to connect. But, they’re hindered by a general lack of education and awareness about adoption.
Work with your Parental Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) to facilitate a lunch and learn around helpful and harmful language and questions when it comes to adopting a child. These types of sessions can support people in understanding when their curiosity may become detrimental during the fragile process of adoption and help to foster inclusiveness into your culture. They can also serve to raise awareness around how many children are in need of loving homes and help to answer questions for people who are interested in pursuing adoption.
If you’re reading this and don’t currently have an ERG for Parents and Caregivers, consider starting one. Studies show that companies with this type of group see an increase in the knowledge of parental benefits available by their employer and an uptick in positive organizational change.
Show support for the (work) family
In a few months, I’ll find out firsthand just how tough being a new mother is. But one of the things I’m most scared of isn’t navigating sleep schedules, homework, and tantrums — it’s what that means for my career.
I have a deep desire to continue to grow into my career as a leader, but I am also inundated with messages about how I should slow down and focus on being a mother. What does it mean for new parents when they go on parental leave? How are they still connected to the culture of your company, and more importantly the culture of their teams? I remember sitting down with our social worker for the first home visit and having her look at me to ask what my plan was for work after we brought our son home, but she didn’t ask my husband the same question. Companies can support parents in mitigating these fears by ensuring they check-in regularly with parents on leave, letting them know they are supported. Make it mandatory for parents to do a pre-leave plan with their supervisor or team, to ensure they can step away with the confidence to be fully present during their time with their child while knowing exactly what to expect when they return. Consider sending a care package or a handwritten letter, to steward your employees in the same way you do your clients. For an example of how this works well, take a page out of the Microsoft playbook and send letters to the children of new parents, letting them know how valued they are.
Together, we can do better
All in all, I’m thankful to work for a company with firm benefits for adoptive parents, but my experience isn’t the norm. In general, we have a long way to go when it comes to laws and policies around parental leave in the United States. If you’re reading this, and, in a position to advocate for reform, then I encourage you to take these small, actionable steps in the right direction. Your future workforce depends on it.