Inequality for Parents vs. Non-Parents in the Office

Posted October 10, 2012 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

Have you ever heard something like, “Well, Jane….Jim has kids, and can’t be here on Saturday, so you’ll need to come in.” Or maybe, “Can you cover my shift? My daughter is sick?” Perhaps something more like, “You can fly out to the client site on short notice, right? It’s not like you have a family at home.”

Is it possible that the work/life balance that offices put in place to help working parents can often backfire on those who are childless? The New York Times makes the case that it does. In their article “When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal,” NYT talks to professionals and finds two arguments in this conundrum.

Argument A: Parents’ Work/Life Balance is Making the Rest of Us Work More

In theory, flextime seems like an everyone-wins proposition. But one person’s work-life balance can be another’s work-life overload. Someone, after all, has to make that meeting or hit that deadline.

Argument B: Someday, It Could Happen to You

Some employees don’t mind filling in for their colleagues with children — in fact, they see it as paying it forward and advancing the feminist mission to “have it all.”

And while I’ve certainly had my days of falling into category A, I can also understand the argument behind category B. But no matter which is right, there are ways to increase equality across the board on your own. Make your own equality with these tips:

  • Set your own boundaries. If you won’t work on Sundays, you won’t work on Sundays. Say so. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have children, you can and should set that boundary early and stick to it.
  • Ask yourself “Would they do the same for you?” If you’re covering for a coworker with children, would they do the same if you had a sick parent or a medical emergency yourself? If you can trust they would, go ahead and help them out when they ask you to.
  • Plan your vacations. One of the beauties of being childless (in my humble opinion, of course) is the ability to travel without a baby seat or stroller. Especially if you know you’ll be working overtime regularly, make sure you’re using your vacation days to the fullest and not just holding onto them or banking them forward. You deserve to get out for some fun in the sun.

In some ways, the workplace is all about “equal schmequal.” Does equality really matter? Or is the same as a child yelling, “that’s not fair”?

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."