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The Top 5 Working Parent “Need to Know’s” for 2021

No need to dwell on the ugliness of 2020. It came with so many challenges for working moms and dads. Yes, there were silver linings which we can choose to preserve, but what insights on working parents can we glean and learn from to make 2021 better?

We continuously keep our finger on the pulse of working parents, combining academic research findings with insights from the in-depth interviews (now over 200 and counting) we conduct as part of The Sophia Project, our program in support of working parents. Here are the top 5 things we think you need to know to make 2021 a WAY better year for working parents:

What To Do (Bites)

  1. Think beyond flexibility. It’s control, too.

    We’ve seen the data about how much people love WFH and expect flexible workplaces to be an accepted option in the future. But it is a mixed blessing for working parents. In addition to painful homeschooling, hiding in bathrooms to get a call in, there are also the kid milestones they never would have seen, school pick-ups that were never in the cards, and importantly, no business travel. Flexibility will remain a theme, but so too will its quieter cousin: control. Happiness and engagement are intertwined with autonomy and control. And yet, COVID has decimated control over our own time, a major pain-point for working parents. Always on and urgency, as in “you didn’t respond to my email from 30 seconds ago so I’m texting to see if you got it,” are on steroids. The assumption of always available – after all, where else could they be? – eats at control. Regaining a semblance of control over our own time should be on Maslow’s hierarchy, at least for working parents.

    So? The first step is in understanding that control and, specifically, control over their time is huge for working parents. Stop yourself and consider how urgent something is; what is the true timeline? Your 7:00 pm email or text signal urgency. What message are you sending when you set up a call for 6:00 pm? What about when feedback on a document is dropped at the end of the day? Why then? What are your expectations? Repeated cues that you are the master of our time are soul sucking.

  2. Bring crystal clarity to what really defines success and what doesn’t.

    Things got confusing in 2020. With all the uncertainty and work environment changes, everyday signals of “I’m committed to my career” got muddied and some things took on outsized meaning. Having to jump off a call to handle a kid, missing half of a rapid-fire conversation on Slack, and lots of “greyed out” blocks of time in WebEx contributed to concerns that “I look less committed because I have kid responsibilities” and the related “it could negatively impact my career.” It was then exacerbated by the absence of face-to-face contact which contributes to uncertainty around how our performance was being perceived.

    So?It’s more than rethinking performance management (although that too). It’s also about communicating what defines success with clarity, and vigilantly aligning rewards accordingly (think praise, assignment of plum projects/roles/files, raises, promotions, etc.). The distracting noise and cues that other things matter creates confusion and causes some to chase the wrong “success drivers.” Clarity around what defines success has always been a best practice but is more important than ever.

  3. Parents hunger for learning and growth, but with new models.

    Sound a bit paradoxical? We are exhausted and frustrated (many burnt out) by the survival mode of 2020 and feel vulnerable in our professional growth and advancement. Yet, we don’t want to be sidelined. Investments in growth and development serve as a proof point that we’re important to our organizations, serve as validation that we matter and give us the skilling up that we all need to grow. But, old models of training are just that, old.

    So? Invest in contemporary learning models with bite-sized learning which recognizes the time-starved nature of our lives, nudges to sustain the wins (so learning isn’t one and done), and content that reflects how people consume information today. It’s about gradual and continuous improvement that fits into our crammed work lives.

  4. Re-nourish parent connectedness.

    Yet another known driver of employee engagement which has taken a beating during Covid. Many are concerned about corporate culture unraveling and relationships fraying, and – let’s face it – the impact on retention. We all know how easy it is to poach talented people when they’re not feeling emotionally connected to colleagues or to the organization itself. This strained connectedness is especially rough for working parents. Even pre-Covid, some of us felt a reluctance to share our lives and especially the challenges in managing work and family (sounds like whining, feeds a perception of reduced commitment, suggests others have to carry their load, etc.). With Covid, the challenges and reluctance to share are even more acute, which can make us feel alone in our experience. Culture and connectedness go hand in hand. Connectedness and retention go hand in hand.

    So? Enable experiences where they can share and solve. We want to know that “we’re not the only ones” and we’re also looking for solutions. Use parent affinity groups to provide opportunities to connect and solve on both personal and professional challenges.

  5. 5. Get dads on your radar, too. The “Involved Father” is here to stay.

    Dads don’t want to miss out – they want to be involved in their children’s lives and do so without penalty. And BTW, this is good for moms, too. The more co-parenting, the more open parents can be to acknowledge their responsibilities at home, the more walking and not just talking employers do, the greater the likelihood we’ll unleash working parent talent.

    So?  We predict dads’ desire to be more involved to not only continue, but to grow. Dads will choose to invest their careers with those companies that not only have family friendly policies, but where the policies and day-to-day cues modelled by everyone, including leadership, demonstrate that commitment.

Parents are watching. Yes, policies matter: parental leave, affordable childcare, etc. But it’s also the day-to-day lived experience – the investment in their growth, the clarity around what it takes to progress, flexibility and control, and human connectedness – that makes a difference. So too does the recognition that there are moms and dads, and dads and dads, and moms and moms, who are ambitious and determined to integrate their family lives with companies that recognize the importance of both.

At Hacking Sophia our mission is to radically improve the day-to-day lived experience of working parents. We partner with companies and parents to help working parents accelerate their professional and personal growth, transferring skills and breaking down obstacles that drain capacity and trap growth potential. We think it’s time to Untrap The Parent Trap.


See our growing list of super smart women and men who have invested their time to help Cram it all in Year women like you. Want to participate?

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The Sophia Project is our corporate program that unleashes working parent talent through Intentional Subtraction.