It is clear that the workforce is changing. By 2025 millennials who are of childbearing age, will make up 75% of the workforce and women and mothers will continue to be important contributors to the labor force. Today 65% of women with children under 6 years old work, a far cry from only 47% in 1975. This is great news! Parents bring amazing talents to the workplace despite often being undervalued and even discriminated against. Compared to childless women, mothers are 6 times less likely to be recommended for hire and 8 times less likely to be recommended for a promotion. Dads who take leave to care for a loved one also experience harm to their professional reputation as they are less likely to get promotions, raises, or high-profile assignments.
This trend suggests that organizations are not capitalizing on some pretty badass parent talent. New parents have the greatest potential for personal growth and development which can be harnessed by organizations. During this time the adult brain undergoes structural and functional changes as it adapts to the new experience of parenting – a process called neuroplasticity. A mother’s brain begins this process during pregnancy, while a father’s brain only changes if he is actively engaged with and shows affection for his infant. These neurological changes help parents consolidate the skills they need to successfully raise and protect their child, such as enhanced emotional intelligence, greater executive functioning, and the capacity to effectively collaborate. Active and engaged parenting, therefore, breeds dynamic employees who are learning to harness the power of their new skills.
During pregnancy and early parenthood, the brain’s social information circuit is activated. This allows parents to better understand how others are feeling, comprehend the emotional and social cues of others, and self-regulate their own feelings. This is particularly important when learning to understand the different cries of their infant. Emotionally intelligent employees who can read social signs in the workplace, can better manage working relationships, motivate others, and solve problems when under pressure.
The new parent experience activates the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for cognition and executive function. This allows parents to better analyze problems, plan an approach, and undertake the steps needed to successfully resolve the issue at hand. Getting their infant to a Mommy and Me class on a Wednesday morning requires a level of planning and strategic thinking (trust me that is a lot of diapers and breast pumping equipment to haul) as does having a work assignment with clear deadlines and expectations.
Capacity to Collaborate
New parents are taking on the biggest challenge that they will have to master together – parenthood. To successfully care for their child, parents must learn how to effectively cooperate with and listen to each other. Together they must reflect on and talk through different strategies to meet the dynamic needs of their infant. Similarly, workplaces need team members who work together effectively to solve problems and meet client or project demands. Parents are constantly practicing these skills in the home and strengthening their ability to foster great teams.
Organizations want and need people who are able to understand emotions, excel at solving problems and are collaboration masters. In fact, thousands of dollars are spent every year training employees to gain competency in these skills. Instead, organizations could be channeling the power of parents in the workplace. A great place to start is to offer paid parental leave that is well managed and supports the entire leave life cycle to allow parents to take the time they need to care for and bond with a new newborn. Organizations must also encourage both moms and dads to take full advantage of the parental leave policy and promote the value that newfound parenting skills can bring to the workforce.