Design

3 Ways the Design Industry Can Champion Working Parents

Late hours, crazy deadlines, pressure to network—the real estate and design industries can make it challenging for working parents to find enough time in the day. As many firms begin rethinking norms and policies, we have an opportunity to reflect and consider when, where, how, and even why we work.

I—along with a small but mighty army of working parents in the Chicago area—want to challenge our industry to think bigger. We are poised for change, especially during “The Great Resignation” and as the war for talent heats up. The pandemic showed us that time is our greatest asset, and with this in mind we believe we can build inclusive policies and practices that can attract talent to our industry. Here’s how:

ADVOCATE FOR MENTAL HEALTH

The pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges working parents already faced. And as I write this, the Omicron variant is surging everywhere, closing schools and making parents feel as if it’s impossible to have both a kid and a job in this era—again.

“We have this ‘lean-in generation’ of working parents who have to speak up and be willing to do what the generation before us had a harder time doing. Part of which is saying ‘This is what we need to be successful.’ The next generation of parents should not have to ask, ‘How can I do both?’ ” said Nikkie Kent, CRO of Mamava, in a recent ThinkLab Clubhouse session.

Here are a few ways you can advocate for mental health for working parents:

01 Make sure home office setups are adequate. Support expectant and breastfeeding parents with the information they need to be successful when they return to work.

02 Consider creating a remote-working guide for parents with tips and tricks to navigate working from home with kids.

03 Find ways to create community, through Facebook or organizations like ASID or IIDA.

DRIVE INCLUSIVE POLICY CHANGE

Perhaps our biggest takeaway from the past year is that the pandemic gave more parents the chance to work from home, and now they don’t want to give it up.

“Working parents are the most productive people in the whole world,” said Liz McCleary, vice president and cofounder of Working Parents Collective at CBRE, in a recent ThinkLab Clubhouse session. “Employers don’t have to doubt that we will get the job done. The more we can normalize the conversation about altered working hours and healthy boundaries, the more it will benefit everyone.”

ThinkLab data suggests that the majority of A&D firms intend to remain on the hybrid spectrum, with three out of four consistently stating that they plan to allow their employees to work remotely one to four days per week. But as we learned in season 2 of our podcast Design Nerds Anonymous, hybrid is the hardest. One of the key elements in policy change is getting hybrid work to work well, and this includes creating a culture that allows for digital equity.

DESIGN PHYSICAL SPACES FOR INCLUSIVITY

One of the hardest days of a working parent’s life is the day they leave their baby to return to a physical office. But there are many things that employers can do to make for an easier transition back, such as creating well-designed spaces to support the physical needs of breastfeeding parents.

“You often see a lounge chair and side table,” said Silja Yanz, health-care designer, Chicago, in a recent ThinkLab Clubhouse session. “In the design industry we are accountable for time sheets and billable hours, and we often have to work while pumping. We need a table, task chair, appropriately positioned outlets, the opportunity for various postures, and adjustable lighting.”

As we look to create more inclusive policies and spaces to help working parents succeed, it’s important to be persistent. “If you see improvements that can be made within your organization, figure out how to reach the people who can make those changes,” Yanz said. “Don’t give up if the first answer is no. If companies understand policy and special arrangements that cater to needs within this season of life, they will have a greater chance of retaining top talent.”

Amanda Schneider is president of ThinkLab, the research division of SANDOW Design Group. Join in to explore what’s next at thinklab.design/join-in.

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