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Instead Of Saying It’s ‘Unprofessional’ To Bring A Child To Work, Let’s Ensure Other Options For Working Moms!

Instead of merely celebrating women for juggling multiple roles, shouldn’t society encourage both partners to share the responsibilities, so they can both reach their full potential at home and at work?

When a District Collector, Dr. Divya S. Iyer, took her child along to a private function and addressed the gathering holding him in her arms, her detractors immediately took to social media to criticise her “improper” behaviour. According to them, it was unbecoming of a senior government official to take her child along for a public engagement, and that she should have left the child behind at home. Others were quick to point out that the function was a private one which she was attending on a holiday in her personal capacity, and that she had already informed the organizers that she would bring her child along.

As the debate over the ‘propriety’ raged, her husband took to social media to remind people that such a discussion was good in one way, since it highlighted the challenges that working women need to overcome in order to fulfil ‘their multiple roles as wife, mother and so on, besides handling professional duties.’ “Working mothers do not need anyone’s sympathy”, he added. “But, the society should give them a positive space to work.”

There are two major issues here, both of which need to be addressed.

The need for inclusive workplaces that address women’s challenges

The first is of inclusive workplaces.

While it is easy to pass judgement on parents who bring their children to work, the fundamental question that needs to be asked is why they need to do so. Given a choice, parents would certainly prefer to work without the distraction of a child- that they need to bring the child to work indicates that they do not have enough flexibility to stay at home on days when they are not able to arrange for childcare.

People who say that it is “unprofessional” of an employee to bring a child to the workplace should reflect on whether they will say the same thing if an organization expects an employee to respond to official phone calls and check the official e-mail after office hours. If no eyebrows are raised when work spills over to the home, why should people have an issue when in an emergency personal life spills over to the workplace.

In this particular case, specifically, the official engagement was on a holiday, and the employee was well within her rights to say that she will only attend provided the child could be brought too.

The ‘supportive’ husband – couldn’t he take over childcare?

The second point which, unfortunately, is lost completely is on the role of the woman.

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Dr. Divya’s husband took to social media to talk about the many roles that a working woman is expected to play. On the surface, this would seem like an extremely encouraging statement, because the emotional load of a woman is almost always overlooked.

However, the pertinent question to be asked is what the role of the father is in all this. If a marriage is an equitable relationship, why is the wife expected to fulfil the roles of a “wife, mother and so on”? If both partners take equal responsibility for housekeeping, caregiving and parenting there would be no need for a woman to take on as many responsibilities as she now does.

Instead of merely celebrating women for juggling multiple roles, shouldn’t society encourage both partners to share the responsibilities, so they can both reach their full potential at home and at work? For this to happen, things need to change at various levels.

Men are celebrated for doing even the basic minimum, while women are expected to do it all without appreciation or acknowledgement. New mothers often complain that even when the fathers pitch in to burp the baby, to change diapers or to soothe colicky babies, the reaction of others embarrasses them to such an extent that they stop doing those chores at least in public. This needs to change if there is to be a more equitable relationship between both partners.

Can workplaces step up and make equitable parenting possible?

Workplaces should also encourage their employees to maintain a better work-life balance in order to facilitate more equitable relationships.

If fathers of young babies are expected to work extremely long hours and/ or take official calls at home, it restricts the time they can spend with their children. The mother is, therefore, forced to take on the major share of caregiving, which in turn makes it extremely difficult for her to return to work when the maternity leave gets over. This leads to reduced labour force participation of women, and to women taking on increasing amounts of the invisible workload.

Many of us have grown up spending weekends and holidays at our parents’ workplace. Indira Nooyi once shared that her daughter had slept under her desk so often she regarded that desk as her own and didn’t want it given away. If they cannot find reliable childcare at home, employees often find it easier to concentrate on work if the child is with them at the workplace.

Ideally, all workplaces should provide child care facilities for their staff, both male and female. Most organizations do not want to invest in childcare facilities because the number of female employees is low and the number of female employees with young children even lower. What these organizations do not realise is that if they provide child care facilities, it will be much easier for them to recruit and retain women employees. Women who know that their babies will be well looked after in the office premises will be far more likely to return to work on completion of their maternity leave. If organizations set up child care facilities, even male employees might access it so their wives can go back to work- this will help retaining male employees, since the this would serve as an incentive to remain in the same employment.

Yes, by bringing her child to an official function, Dr. Divya, IAS did stir up a debate. However, instead of debating whether or not she should did something wrong by bringing her child to work, if we discussed the need for more inclusive policies at work it would better serve the cause of improving the labour force participation of women.

Image source: YouTube

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

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