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Talent In a tight labour market, employers need to pay attention to the needs of parents

Amanda Munday is the founder and CEO of The Workaround, a co-working space with child care. Anna Mackenzie is the founder of The Expecting Playbook and The Parenting Playbook and a software engineer.

In early October, Starbucks announced a partnership with Care.com to provide child care to all its U.S. employees. This move signals the rising demand for child care, including in unplanned and emergency scenarios. It is also a sign of the times. To achieve and maintain top employer status in a competitive job market, startups and small businesses can no longer overlook the needs of parents.

As two dedicated career women, we’ve faced this issue from different perspectives. One of us is the mother of two children and the other is a sought-after software engineer who will be thinking about children one day. Here’s the hard truth: Asking about parental leave policies and child care during job interviews creates a bias that has affected us both in our ability to get jobs.

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We’ve heard late-night stories for years from parents, especially women, leaving their careers because they didn’t feel supported or couldn’t afford child care. So together with Nora Jenkins Townson (of HR consulting firm Bright + Early) we created the Parenting Playbook, a free resource that helps companies build parent-friendly policies, particularly focused on the dynamic tech economy in Toronto.

By 2021, “peak millennials” – the largest cohort of millennials – will be 26 to 31 years old, typically considered the home buying and family planning age. Given that child care is one of the more expensive benefits an employer can offer, especially in the Greater Toronto Area, there is a lingering perception that becoming parent-friendly is unfeasible. This assumption is just not true.

While subsidizing child care is ideal, there are ample other opportunities for employers to become parent-friendly as a core recruitment strategy without breaking the bank. FreshBooks Inc., a 280-person accounting technology company, offers moms and dads 80 per cent of their workload at 100 per cent of their pay for the first month while they transition back to work. New families also receive a week of meal service and a month’s supply of diapers. A re-onboarding meeting is also a simple way to welcome back your employee from leave, covering any changes to the organization, introductions to new team members and briefings on projects.

Giving parents a paid day off for graduations, school performances or their child’s birthday is an easy kindness rewarded with loyalty and top performance. New options for co-working and child care allow employers to subsidize the regular cost of “day passes” for days when extra care is needed, especially in emergency situations such as inclement weather or a transit outage. Consider a brunch bonanza for your next team celebration. Not every social event has to be a late-night beer and pizza gathering, and having senior leaders be role models who value family life as much as career is crucial for young professionals.

In the ubiquitous open concept office, finding space for a lactation room gets cited as a challenge. Even if there are no employees currently pumping milk on the team, having the room ready for visitors, candidates or event attendees is good practice. The room should not be a bathroom, but should be windowless, with a lock, should be reservable (don’t be the company known for walk-in incidents), and include a workstation and a mini-fridge or freezer for expressed milk. During recent renovations, tech consulting firm The Working Group (TWG) styled their private pumping room with plants, modern furniture and stainless steel appliances, all of which are low-cost and high-impact. As part of their inclusive support philosophy, TWG also makes the pumping room part of every visitor’s office tour, so candidates don’t have to be the one to ask.

During our research for the Parenting Playbook, we spoke to scores of working parents. One of their top asks? Flexible work. Simply accommodating early arrivals and departures, work-from-home days or the flexibility to accommodate a daycare pickup can mean the world to a parent, and enable them to be a stronger company contributor. And flexibility is cost-free.

It is time to draw a straight line between the war for talent and an opportunity to support parents. A family friendly company that does not penalize employees for unintentional absences simply caused by the unpredictable nature of raising a family, is a company that will reap the economic rewards of efficient leaders who are drawn to solving hard problems. We believe that a parent-friendly workplace is essential to attracting top talent in each sector struggling with finding and retaining superior teams.

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