Parent Zero: Will You Be the Workplace Disruptor?

The first time I thought about Parent Zero was ten years ago. My now friend and then new client (fun fact, she became a client because her mother read about me in Baltimore Magazine and thought we should connect) was quite busy redefining corporate social responsibility and digital engagement for Graco which, prior to being acquired by Newell Rubbermaid and moving to Georgia, was headquartered in Pennsylvania.

During Lindsay’s time at Graco, she became a mom and was determined to nurse her children as long as possible. She worked hand in hand with Graco’s Human Resources department to build what became a state-recognized and award-winning lactation program in hopes that every mom would have the opportunity to breastfeed their child after returning to work. She was able to breastfeed both of her children until nearly a year which, in her own words, “took every bit of help and humor she could find”.

Lindsay was Parent Zero.

#LeadonLeave Business Panel — Labor Secretary Tom Perez; Stephanie Jackson, Union Square Hospitality Group; Jenny Dearborn, SAP; Tom Nides, Morgan Stanley; and Brent Bachus, Deloitte LLP

These were before laws and mandates. Before ACA required pumping spaces. Before the It’s Working Project was listening, before A Better Balance and a remarkable field of like-minded organizations around the country were successfully advocating, before States and even cities such as New York raised the bar through legislation in support of pregnant and nursing working women, elevating the expectation for care and experience. Before the Department of Labor drove programs such as #LeadonLeave urging the private sector to understand and embrace the business case behind supporting families in the workplace.

Before all of this there was the slim chance that a parent with enough will, clarity and confidence would “go there” and ask for a space to pump, flexible schedules, and other key supports of working parenthood. And beyond the will, the odds remained slim that an individual employee carried enough value in the eyes of the employer, empowering them to state their needs and make them a requirement of staying. And of course there was not only the question of asking there was having ones needs met and the execution beyond that…

Lindsay was a Parent Zero. She was the parental employee who asked for more and stood in partnership with management to build a symbiotic, strengthening policies and thoughtful support systems that will serve to support all. We read about them over and again in the Portrait Project. Stories of Beth, Tatiana, Manon, Emma, Warren and many more.

When I am out speaking and participating (thank you DOL) — I hear over and again about what it was to be Parent Zero. This week, after a brilliant job moderating several panels at New America, Jonathan Cohn said that he was that Parent Zero, the father within his organization who moved the needle.

And now to hear Hillary Clinton share in Fortune Magazine and in her own words her experiences as well. That helps to further illustrate, and bring to life a rich narrative around what we knew then and what we still know, there is no status-quo but there is a new normal. The difference is how we understand the business case for leave, how we embrace the realities of the economic case for mending our chronic leak and how willing we are to course-correct via complicated maneuvers that ultimately create a cultural shift that leads us to change.

White House Summit for Working Families 2013 — Megan Beyer and Ellen Galinsky

As Anne Marie Slaughter, of New America likes to say, it is time to leapfrog and I could not agree more. Now is not the moment for a band-aid it is a moment to look honestly at the wound and begin to invest in the healing. Labor Secretary Perez summed it up beautifully when looking at the intersection between private and public sector in this process — it requires, leadership, data, investment in partnerships, a relentless commitment to being the change and finally, an orchestrated effort of cross the finish line and maintain the vision for generations to come. Be it leave, childcare, pumping — the support is possible and probably the best bet we have for getting where are going.

Were you a Parent Zero? Been mentored by a Parent Zero? Seen your organization shift under the weight of a singular individual’s needs? We would love to hear more. Share your story with the It’s Working Project and we will make sure your experiences become part of the rich, candid mosaic of stories that are the Portrait Project. Thank you!

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