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It takes a village: How Donut empowers working parents (theirs and yours)

Build belonging in hybrid teams with inclusive events, flexibility, and more
It takes a village: How Donut empowers working parents (theirs and yours)
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By Dan Manian, CEO, and Carrie Biggar, Customer Experience Manager, at Donut

Dan Manian, CEO and co-founder of Donut, helps teams foster cultures of connectivity, collaboration, and belonging. You can also find him playing music for business with his band, Mobile Steam Unit, and teaching a lean startup course at Brown University.

Carrie Biggar is Customer Experience Manager at Donut and has led CX teams for nearly a decade at companies like Lyft and Eventbrite. When she’s not working or raising her four-year-old, Carrie loves photography, crafting, and Disney.

Raising a child comes with a unique set of difficulties, from sleep training and teething, to meal prep and homework help. Many believe that child care is a full time job, so when you factor in a career and rising return to office mandates on top of pandemic parenting of remote schooling and erratic child care, it’s no wonder that working parents are stressed.

As leadership teams navigate the future of work and rethink the experiences they offer, considerations for working parents should remain top of mind. When it comes to balancing work and life responsibilities, building a robust support system within the workplace is imperative to ensure working parents feel supported, heard, and have the proper resources to succeed. Early in 2022, our company, Donut, a Slack-integration tool for team engagement, created its inaugural parents & caregivers employee resource group (ERG). Here are some of the vital lessons we learned along the way.

Embrace flexibility

When it comes to parenting, there is no one size fits all approach. The same can be said for work preferences. Since 2020, the workplace has been full of debates over where employees are the most productive, if remote work is here to stay, and what the future of work looks like. While leadership teams may be tempted by uniformity and find it easier if all employees worked in the same way, reality isn’t so simple.

Parents have always been caught in the middle of these debates, and tensions have risen with the return to office. For some parents, the office may provide a more focused space for deep work, but for others, remote and hybrid options mean less time commuting and more time spent with family. This flexibility could be the difference between doing a load of laundry, serving breakfast, or even saving some money on daycare.

While some parents may welcome a return to office, it may be burdensome to others. At the end of the day, Donut feels the pressure to be present in person hurts everyone, especially parents. The best outcomes will come from a flexible approach that allows people to do what is best for them. Allowing workers to choose alternate work options can improve employee happiness, retention, and workplace culture overall.

Create a community

Balancing dual roles as parent and employee can come with an array of unwelcome stigmas, and bearing that burden alone is isolating. Leadership teams should create space for communities for working parents, allowing them a safe place to discuss challenges, bond over milestones, and, when relevant, influence benefits or parental policies.

At Donut, our parents ERG holds virtual, kid-friendly, bi-weekly meetings, where we discuss recent struggles (ranging from potty training to school), as well as parenting wins. It’s especially important to share these successes, because for many working parents, it’s easy to feel like you’re never giving 100% to any one part in your life. For our ERG, it’s important for us to celebrate the moments we’re proud of and uplift our fellow caregivers. Ultimately, a supportive ERG group can help parents feel like their full identity is embraced, and that they can bring their whole selves to work.

Working parents are a valuable part of any team and, at Donut, we’re committed to supporting these caregivers, even outside our company. Companies using Donut can set up working parents Slack channels, and schedule 1:1 Intros, where parents are randomly paired to discuss their experiences or challenges, giving them a dedicated space to problem solve.

We’re also creating a parenting & caregiver-focused Watercooler Pack, which we’ll test internally within our ERG before making it available for parents everywhere. Companies using Donut can use these topics in a parenting-oriented Slack channel, and our integration will pose caregiver-centric conversation starters for members to discuss, spanning self-care, proud parenting moments, and more.

Welcome advocacy

As the old adage goes: parents know best. Leadership teams should encourage working parents to voice their opinions and propose the changes they want to see. At Donut, our ERG recently pulled together a proposal that expanded on, clarified, and suggested additions to Donut’s caregivers policies, including bereavement policies around child loss and additional accommodations for parents—some of which have already been adopted. By listening to and incorporating these ideas, leadership is not only showing support for working parents, but creating a warmer, more inclusive workplace for all.

Create inclusive events

Leadership teams often assume that parents cannot or don’t want to participate in non-work related activities. But like any employee, it’s important for working parents to unwind and have a little fun, as well! Leadership teams can dream up fun events for both parents and their wider team. Host a hybrid take your child to work day, and mail company kiddos some cute branded shirts and toys. Then, ask parents to film their kids explaining what their job is (promise you’ll get some hilarious answers), or host a trivia event or magic show that gets everyone in on the fun. Beyond being adorable, these moments will enable teams to get a deeper understanding and appreciation for working parents and the lives they live.

Inclusive events can also take the form of philanthropy. At Donut, we recently hosted a Backpack Drive to benefit the Kids in Need foundation. Donut donated 25 backpacks, and raised over $600 for school supplies. This team building activity was a fun way to get parents — and non-parents — collaborating while supporting a worthy cause. The golden rule? Remember that, like with flexibility, every caregiver’s needs are different, so communicate that it’s okay if some parents are unable to join.

Lend a listening ear

Overall, the biggest consideration companies should keep in mind is actively listening to parents. When it comes to devising policies and benefits, leadership teams should ensure they’re including caregivers in conversations to make sure well-intentioned policies are hitting the mark. Holding intentional conversations with working parents to find out what they need goes a long way, even if it’s simply asking, “what can we do to make you feel supported?” During these dialogues, authenticity and established relationships are important. Leaders should ensure these moments don’t feel scripted, but genuine and specific to each individual.

To drive accountability, Donut holds regular leader meetings, where we talk through these topics and look for ways to implement the changes we’ve discussed with parents, and other underrepresented groups. A way to ensure regular check-ins with parents are happening is to ask leaders if they’ve gotten feedback on a new policy or retreat, and then we’ll discuss what those key learnings were. When soliciting this feedback, be mindful of getting input from leaders with diverse representation on their teams, to ensure inclusivity.

By extending the support offered to working parents, leadership teams can reduce the burden these employees feel and improve their overall sense of belonging. While it may take a village to raise a child, it takes an inclusive, supportive workplace to ensure working parents are given the resources to succeed.