How to mitigate against ‘parental bias’


As parents face mounting pressure juggling their work and caring responsibilities, how do they manage the short term without it impacting their long-term professional goals?

While many parents, particularly mothers, have left the workforce during the pandemic to carry the demands of childcare, we are beginning to see another trend emerge – this time among those who have kept their jobs. This week, The New York Times published an article revealing that the pandemic has stalled the careers of many parents, particularly mothers, who have been juggling homeschool, childcare, and their careers. In a survey of 468 working mothers, one-third said they had worked fewer hours because of childcare issues, and one-fifth of those surveyed had stepped back into part-time work. In addition to this, 28 percent declined new responsibilities at work, 16 percent didn’t pursue a promotion, and 23 percent didn’t apply for new jobs.

And if those disheartening figures weren’t enough, we have also seen direct discrimination play out against parents in some workplaces. At the beginning of Sydney’s latest COVID outbreak, Women’s Agenda revealed a council in Sydney’s south-east asked staff to sign a declaration that they would not be supervising children aged seven or younger while working from home. This council didn’t want employees to work and care at the same time, and yet, during this time, that is exactly what we’ve all had to do.

So, as parents face mounting pressure juggling their work and caring responsibilities, how do they manage the short term without it impacting their long-term professional goals? How can we prevent ‘parental bias’ rearing its ugly head in our workplaces?

Firstly, listen to the broader messaging from your workplace and consider your stakeholders’ potential biases. Then think about how you will manage them by getting clear on your accountabilities, caring responsibilities, and, finally, becoming ruthless about your priorities. Here are our tips to doing just that:

Get clear on your caring responsibilities: If you’re in a couple, how are you currently sharing caring responsibilities? Can you share this care in a different way? What’s working and what’s not working? Have a conversation about how you can divide and conquer more equally. Prioritise open and honest communication now, and it will prevent resentment and conflict down the track.

Get clear on your accountabilities: A successful flexible working arrangement relies on an accountability to delivery. Accountability is holding responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. We like to use ‘The Five C’s’ framework to get clear on accountability within any role. It will ensure that you are working on the right things, at the right time, in the right way. They are designed to work together to build trust and confidence with your stakeholders, and help you to grow and perform at your best. Explore the below:

  1. Clear Expectations: Get crystal clear on what is expected of you.

  2. Clear Capability: You have the capabilities to perform the tasks required.

  3. Clear Measurement: You are clear on how your performance will be evaluated and measured.

  4. Clear Feedback: You have agreed the feedback loops that you need, including when and how it will be delivered.

  5. Consequences: You understand what is at risk from non-delivery, including financial implications.

Marie Kondo your role: Once you’re clear on your accountabilities, refine your day-to-day activities and ruthlessly prioritise. We call this ‘Marie Kondo-ing your role’. When you think about your role and accountabilities, what really ‘sparks joy’ for you? What are the things that you’re both good at and add value to the company and your career – versus what could be either dropped, delegated or delayed. Marie Kondo-ing your role also gives you the opportunity to build greater intrinsic motivation which, when you are juggling multiple priorities, helps to build your highest performance in limited time. So, now is the time to actively choose to be ruthless about your priorities. This kind of thinking can bring both value and space to your role – as well as provide a solid base for commencing a more structural role redesign, if required.

Finally, get clear on what is most important each day and each week and establish some boundaries that will allow you to switch between ‘work’ and ‘home’. 

If you want to explore how to better balance career and care during lockdown, we encourage you to do our ‘Joy In The Juggle: Full House Edition’ program.