The Pros -- and Cons -- of Parenting Skills in the Workplace

A new survey finds female professionals in executive positions think raising children gave them skills which are portable to the workplace, but 45 percent of the female corporate executives polled also say they believe their career-growth prospects have been stymied "somewhat" by having children.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
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Though much has been written about the strengths good parenting bring to management positions, a recent executive survey by Korn/Ferry Institute puts an impressive number with that notion.

According to the survey by the Los Angeles-based executive-recruitment firm, 95 percent of female professionals in executive positions think raising children has provided them with unique skills portable to the workplace.

The top transferable skills, according to the responding executives registered with the firm's global online Executive Center (serving more than 70 countries), are motivating and inspiring others, learning agility (applying past experience in new ways) and confidence.

"The findings show that parenthood offers a world of training in psychology, time management and diplomacy that can easily be applied to business," says Kathy Woods, senior partner at Korn/Ferry's Leadership and Talent Consulting division.

 "And technology is making it easier than ever for women to hold the dual roles of executive and parent," adds Woods, who is also a mom.

Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, assistant director of marketing for the Boston College Center for Work and Family in Chestnut Hill, Mass., says, based on her group's research and experience, that she would add a few additional skills that parenting brings to the workplace: multi-tasking and empathy.

The latter, she says, is something all "parents need to develop," and, likewise, "managers need to be able to look at someone else's viewpoints" as well.

Nevertheless, despite the advantages gained by skills transferrable to management roles, as well as technology's impact in helping parents manage the demands of children and work, about 45 percent of the female corporate executives polled say they believe their career-growth prospects have been stymied "somewhat" by having children. Another 8 percent believe motherhood has limited their career progression to a "great extent."

As further evidence of the challenge, 29 percent of respondents say they have either postponed having kids (19 percent) or decided not to have them at all (10 percent) because of their careers.

"I think there's still a lot of unconscious bias out there," says Fraone. "I'd like to think there's less overt bias against [mothers]; I'd like to think there's still a sense that they can take [both demands of work and family] on" . . . but the negative judgments also persist.

In fact, recent research by Shelley J. Correll, associate professor at Stanford University's Department of Sociology, et. al. (Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?) -- which won a Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research, an award developed by CWF and the Center for Families at Purdue University -- shows people who added parenting references to their resumes in the study, such as an affiliation with a child-related organization like a parent/teacher association, were less likely to be invited to a job interview.

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The study, says Fraone, showed study subjects acting as hiring managers "would judge them as less committed and less competent and promotable."

Yet, in terms of overall leadership skills, she says, "when you're a parent, you're running a fairly complex household." HR leaders and hiring managers, she adds, need to stop seeing "being a committed parent as a negative."

"That's my big fear," says Fraone, that a supervisor's or recruiter's observation of: " 'Wow! She's really involved with her kids' lives!' translates into a negative mark against her."

And, in order to close this gap between parenting and management credibility, she says, the pervading work/life research must move its focus away from conflict.

In most of the research out there, she says, "when we're looking at the whole work/life fit, we're looking at it in terms of the conflict paradigm -- work versus life, life versus work -- but the perspective we try to promote here at the Center for Work and Family is the enrichment concept; that the skills you learn at work can enrich your life at home and vice versa, that the skills you learn at home translates to, and enriches, work."

Until all of society, including the business community, can see and accept this enrichment circle, says Fraone, "this bias will continue" to harm both parents and the employers they are equipped to positively affect.

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