Working parents have a head start on gaining the skills of the future

Valuing the skills working parents bring to the workforce can be a key differentiator for organizations in attracting talent.

Working parents have a head start on gaining the skills of the future

  • Today’s workplaces need people who can quickly adapt to change, make confident decisions under pressure, and handle multiple disciplines.
  • Parents are uniquely skilled in the areas of adaptation, problem-solving, and multitasking. These skills, especially those that require emotional intelligence, are in-demand and rising in the workplace.
  • Organizations that embrace positive parental support policies and practices help everyone learn new skills, support one another, and work with the flexible mindset needed for future success.

Great leaders embrace difficult challenges, drive innovation, and hope to make a positive impact on their businesses and the people they serve. They see intractable problems and suggest creative ways to not only survive but thrive. They accept that trial will often lead to error, but the overall failure of the enterprise is not an option.

There’s an often-overlooked subset of the workforce that is virtually guaranteed to have most if not all of these qualities: working parents. They have a breadth of experience with adapting constantly, negotiating, creative problem-solving, managing high levels of stress, planning and prioritizing and tough decision-making. They possess empathy from putting others’ needs first and have extensive practice reading between the lines to interpret vague communication. Parents are also keenly attuned to their instincts in the absence of a reliable playbook for most situations.

Related content: Worried about finding skilled talent? Read our paper on how experienced workers can strengthen your talent pool. 

There’s more demand for these skills than ever

Being qualified to do a job well, of course, includes more than these skills, and no organization should approach hiring with a bias against or in favor of certain groups. But to the extent that a bias already exists in some industries against workers with family responsibilities, especially mothers, we should reframe the definition of a valuable employee and leader to consider the skills that parents tend to have in abundance. This is particularly essential as flexible work becomes more of a norm.

According to our data, many of the skills that parenting helps develop are stable or rising in demand by organizations that are hiring for new or open roles. Qualities such as planning, leadership, empathy, and collaboration are as desirable as they’ve been previously. In addition, the demand for workers with creativity, decisiveness, intuition, and flexibility is actually on the rise.

The widest gender gap is among working parents

The truth is that for most men, fatherhood results in a wage bonus. For most women, motherhood results in a wage penalty. 

According to a study by Third Way’s NEXT program, the pay gap related to parenthood is increasing, even as the overall gender pay gap decreases. Men receive a 6% increase in pay with each new child while women receive a 39% cut after taking a one-year career break. Even this fatherhood “bonus” is not equal across the income distribution, it is much greater for men at the top. It’s time to value all parents across genders and income levels.

Working parents have a head start on gaining the skills of the future

Hiring parents has far-reaching benefits

According to the Census Bureau’s 2022 Current Population Survey data, there were more than 12 million — almost 15% — of households where the mother was not actively working. We’re unable to determine if that’s due to family leave policies or choosing to stay home, but changing this figure could exponentially increase GDP, create more wealth for families, support social security, foster productivity and innovation, and more. 

Despite the stigma of a résumé gap, those months or years of a parent’s career break actually help build a skill set that can be translated to their workplace. 

Working parents are an asset to the workplace, not a liability, and these benefits are recognized all around the world. Employers committing to viewing parents as assets can be a key differentiator in attracting talent. 

Organizations need to be part of a larger movement of valuing their employees for their whole selves, including expanding benefits to support working parents. When people feel safe bringing their whole selves to work, those diverse perspectives will allow organizations to innovate and advance. 

Instead of being a stressful disruption to productivity, parental leave can actually create opportunities for workforce development. Rather than scrambling to fill holes, organizations can use the period before the leave to proactively train up-and-coming employees to perform duties while an employee is out on leave. If mid-year reviews include assessing different areas that employees want to explore, managers and HR can identify in advance candidates for taking on new responsibilities during a colleague’s leave.

I benefited from this earlier in my career when I had a manager who went on maternity leave and I was tasked with a year-long, high-visibility, multi-stakeholder project. It was nerve-wracking and mistakes were inevitable, but I learned how to single-handedly manage such projects and influence change within my agency, and it played a big part in advancing my career. 

Valuing working parents helps everyone, including non-parents

Now, I’m the new parent. I just returned from four months of maternity leave, and I’ve already realized that even though my time is limited, I’m actually able to do more in less time than I could before. I can better prioritize my tasks, manage my time, and assess opportunities. 

I’m also much more willing to call it quits on an idea that just isn’t working. It was difficult to even fathom amidst the chaos of those first few months, but as I write this, I’m realizing how much better I am at problem-solving, time management, and decision-making, and I’m only going to get better.  

I’m also grateful for a flexible workplace that will enable me to use these skills to contribute even more to my organization. According to Lean In’s 2023 Women in the Workplace Survey, one in five women say flexibility has helped them stay in their jobs or avoid reducing their hours. A large number of women who work hybrid or remotely point to feeling less fatigued and burned out as a primary benefit.

This doesn’t just benefit me as a working mother. Flexibility for parents’ needs also supports the rest of the workforce who may or may not have kids but have commitments outside of work, and rangingwork styles and preferences. The Lean In survey also found that half of women and a third of men point to “offering significant flexibility in when and where employees work” as a top-three factor in their organization’s future success. 

In the new world of work, old beliefs and biases about working parents are harmful to employees, organizations, and the economy alike. Organizations that embrace the skills developed as a parent and build a culture to support them will attract the best talent and lead their industries.

Sania Khan is the Chief Economist at Eightfold AI and author of the book Think Like an Economist. She previously worked for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This article originally appeared on Inc. in December.

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