Many working parents struggle to balance work and family. To accommodate these employees and attract and retain valuable talent, some employers are allowing them to bring their kids to the workplace under certain circumstances, such as school getting canceled, a nanny needing a vacation or a child’s illness.
Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, allows her employees to bring their kids to work when needed. She started bringing her newborn son to the office about 10 years ago, and was able to expand this policy when she became CEO four years later.
The company even has a room designated specifically for children where they can do homework, watch TV or play games. But this by no means replaces daycare, Parsons said.
“The policy is not you can bring your child every day,” Parsons said. “The policy is about giving the flexibility so that when [its] needed, they know that it’s not forbidden.”
The company was relatively small when it began, with about 18 to 20 employees, most of whom were single at the time. But it has grown to 55 people, with a much more diversified makeup of working and single parents, according to Parsons.
“The hardest part for working parents is being pulled into different directions,” Parsons said. “No matter what they want to say about work, no matter how loyal they want to be, if your child needs you and you can’t be there for your child, you are not going to do great work.”
In a fast-paced environment like Silicon Valley, the fight for talent can be more than fierce — sometimes it is cutthroat competition that decides a technology company’s destiny. The childcare policy increases Palo Alto Software’s gender diversity as well as attractiveness to talented, high-tech workers.
Parsons said the average percentage of female developers at a Silicon Valley company is about 8 to 10 percent, but at Palo Alto Software it is 30 percent.
“We have some super smart women developers,” Parsons said. “I think part of the reason we got them to work in our company is the fact that they see a lot of children, and they see other women here being successful, and it draws them to our company.”
Lara Fields, product architect at Palo Alto Software, is one of the employees who benefit from this policy. Fields said it is stressful dealing with complicated work while having to care for her children at the same time.
“This policy did help me a lot,” Fields said. Her husband is a physician, so it is nearly impossible for him to take care of the children when he works. Fields brought her newborn daughter to work during the first six months.
“With the policy I don’t need to take several months off to take care of my newborn,” Fields said. “This policy will definitely be a good reason for me to keep working with the company.”
Some others in the software industry express great interest in Palo Alto Software’s approach. Marc Moschetto, vice president at WorkForce Software, said it is an “incredibly forward-thinking policy.” However, he also points out that it needs to be carefully implemented.
“A nanny taking vacation sounds like something that can be planned out well in advance, ” Moschetto said in an email interview. “In such an instance, the employee should have enough opportunity to adjust work schedules accordingly and, if necessary, plan to take PTO.”
He also said it might not be the best idea for parents to bring a sick child to work. “If the child is an infant that requires constant attention,” Moschetto said, “it can be a disruption to both the parent and co-workers.”
Moschetto is not the only one who exhibits some skepticism. Hilarie Lieb, a professor in the department of economics at Northwestern University, also points out that there is greater room for flexibility in technology companies, but there are potential problems with such a policy in other companies or industries.
“I think you can’t generalize this policy across all companies,” Lieb said. “They are something we call ‘selection biased,’ in that certain companies can accommodate this type of flexibility” while other types of companies and jobs cannot. “They have to really look at the nature of the job or working environment.”
Parsons said success depends on creating the right structure to make it work. “We talk about being appropriate, being responsible and respecting other employees,” Parsons said. “Our employees who do bring children in respect other employees who don’t have children. Employees don’t abuse it.”
“I don’t think it’s a trend yet,” Parsons said. “I would love to say that it’s becoming a trend, but I think we are not there yet. I hope in 10 years it is a trend.”
Xin Sheng is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.