Working parents—how adhering to brand values can support employees

Words by Kaitlin Barton
Date 2022-03-18

A friend recently posted, “I’m supposed to work like I don’t have kids and parent like I don’t work.”

My response? I feel you, sister.

Showing up equally strong at work and home can be overwhelming for parents, who make up about 40 percent of the US labor force. While I can’t speak for everyone, many of us have lived through a whole Shakespearean drama before our first work call. Work literally comes second.

My kids are my heart, my body, my soul—of course they’re my priority. But I’ve also got to fund their organic berry budget line item, so here we are.

And there’s ample evidence that parents are kick-ass employees.

Research suggests people are more productive after having kids. Some call parenthood a superpower at work when it comes to ruthless prioritization and “get-it-done-ness.” I for one have gained invaluable negotiation, innovation and repositioning skills from raising two strong-willed, irrational, curious, discerning consumers—that is, toddlers.

Truth is, companies want and need working parents because they make their brands better and more creative. But a lot of working parents just want employers to not make their lives harder. Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work and our family’s well-being is inextricably linked to our employer’s benefits.

While living your brand values when it comes to how you behave as a company seems obvious to most of us, there are plenty that don’t.

Businesses that drop their end of the bargain around parenthood attract the wrong kind of attention—especially when it directly contrasts with brand values, as Kyte Baby recently illustrated.

It’s an excellent case study as to why we should recognize the role we have as marketers.

Brand directs the way that organizations show up in the world. It shapes the way they speak to their key audiences: customers, investors, regulators and employees. Your brand is what they say about you when you’re not in the room.

Brand values are essentially behavior guides—principles you’ll never compromise on.

Parents and all consumers use brand values as clues. Something to give us a sense of humanity behind the corporation—reassurance that the business sees us as people, not just a transaction of money or labor. In both job-seeking and day-to-day satisfaction, brand values are a shortcut for parents in how they’ll experience the world of (insert any employer).

Needless to say, a renewed focus on brand values is far from a silver bullet. There are a lot of systemic problems at play that make parents’ lives harder. Solutions are needed at the policy level. Paid parental leave and affordable child care are two areas where the US definitively comes in last.

But that doesn’t get businesses off teh hook from living up to their ideals and actually earning the massive amount of trust Americans put in them.

If you’re starting from scratch or revisiting your brand values in this light, here are a couple of thought-starters:

It’s ok for your values to turn people off

When writing values as an employer brand, remember this: You don’t need t be everything to everyone. Make it a very easy choice for applicants while creating a clear cultural contract from the outset and saving everyone time and money in the long-run.

For example, Amazon’s leadership principles don’t speak to me. It tells me that teams are likely lean. And while I agree that “constraints breed resourcefulness,” I am not in an “accomplish more with less” phase of life right now.

I applaud Amazon’s values for being so clear, choiceful and focused—I get a sense of what the brand stands for and can also steer clear of applying if it’s not for me.

If you talk about it, be it

It’s more common than not to see a nod to diversity, equity and inclusion in most brands’ values today—it’s worth playing out what this means for parents.

There are so many different kinds of caretakers working for brands, so if your values include DE&I, you better live that beyond rainbow flag brandmark treatments in June.

For example, the formula brand Bobbie’s value of inclusivity comes to life both in how it supports whatever feeding decision parents make for their children, but also in how it helps every parent. Bobbie is a member of the N.O. Support Grant Coalition, a group of brands and individuals helping families impacted by the lack of federal paid leave. The coalition is giving 200 families across the country microgrants of $580—the minimum monthly benefit that would be provided by the federal Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, currently before Congress.

We’re worth it

Too often, leaders over-index their time and money on the superficial stuff when it comes to company culture—the surface-level perks—instead of using their values to set a strategic direction that brings real value to employees and the business.

Creating a differentiated employer brand—the vibes, if you will—isn’t accidental, it’s designed. At the very least, we should evaluate our brand’s values through these lenses to check for hypocrisy for parents—and all employee identities.

It pays off. Parents are great employees. Reducing turnover and absenteeism is good for profits. And according to McKinsey, culturally-aligned businesses are the highest performing of all.

Parents need businesses, and most businesses need parents. As marketers, we control how our brands show up in the world. Which is to say that it’s in our power to shift outdated perceptions that taking care of parents’ needs is a cost, as opposed to being an investment.

First published in Ad Age.