In 2017, a video of a professor in a suit being interviewed on BBC while his young children burst into his home office went viral for its humor and relatability. Little could have any one predicted, those types of video call ‘viral moments’ would become regular occurrences as legions of office workers adjusted to working from home during the pandemic.
“Now, in 2021, kids burst into the room during a meeting, and no one skips a beat. The parent isn’t embarrassed by the glimpse into home life; coworkers on the call aren’t phased because they likely have a similar situation at home, and business continues. There’s been a total shift in mindset,” says Inbar Blankenship, product manager.
From parents attending meetings with children on their laps to caretakers attending a meeting by phone from the doctor’s office where they've taken a parent for an appointment, the shift to working from home during the pandemic has normalized the simultaneous nature of being both an employee and a parent or caretaker.
Dual Roles: A Juggling Act for Working Parents and Caregivers
Even before the pandemic changed everything for office workers in March of 2020, parents and caretakers were feeling the squeeze of balancing the demands of family and work. But between working and schooling remotely, dealing with their own and family members’ health issues, and lockdowns that kept people inside their homes for much of the day, working parents and caregivers were forced to redefine work-life balance as they dealt with unprecedented challenges.
“So many parents were dealing with the new challenges of trying to work from home with children, and it was becoming evident on meetings, and people were starting to talk about that,” says Dave Wagner, a solutions consultant and caretaker for his child, who has a disability, and his elderly grandfather. "On the caretaker side as well, many were trying to deal with situations with loved ones in nursing homes, or in my case, trying to bring my elderly family to live with me.”
The merging of work life and family life highlighted the need for community and support, says Adam Milazzotto, Regional Partner Enablement Manager, who became one of the founding members of a new employee resource group (ERG) called Parents and Caretakers, or PaCT.
As a single dad, Adam was helping his elementary-aged son with virtual schooling every day during the pandemic.
“It was really nice that from the start of the pandemic, leadership here made sure to communicate that employees should prioritize their family,” he says. “Having the technology and flexibility to put family first was huge. Because it wasn’t easy on us.”
Working Moms in Crisis
That PaCT was formed during the long winter of the pandemic is no accident. Working moms in particular were being affected in extraordinary ways.
“I was reading an article on a McKinsey Report called Women in the Workplace. It found that one in three mothers were reducing pay, reducing hours or leaving the workforce because of the pandemic,” says Inbar. “I was reading it in the middle of the night after having spent all day working and watching my kids. I wondered if this was happening at Rockwell Automation, and I really wanted to do something to address it.”
Inbar reached out to colleagues in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and found a colleague who was also interested in starting an ERG for working moms. They then connected with folks who had already begun the process of starting PaCT, including Adam. Now, Inbar is a member with a leadership role as the Partner for Change (change advocacy) lead.
“I was super enthusiastic when I learned about PaCT. I jumped on it because it was a topic close to my heart,” says Nadine Heier-Sorrentino, Channel & Field Marketing Manager for Europe and Communication Co-Lead in the ERG.
Before coming to Rockwell, Nadine was at a midsized German company where the realities of having small children were not welcomed or accepted. “It was better to hide that you have children,” she says. “In the U.S., it’s easy to talk about your family obligations and home life with coworkers, but for us in Europe, it’s still hard to discuss. This ERG helps to drive our culture of understanding, inclusion, and diversity. It removes barriers when you feel that you can openly talk about this.”
PaCT Adds Value, Purpose for Members
Not even six months after launching, this ERG has seen tremendous interest and growth among employees – which is not a surprise, as parenting and caregiving are roles that a majority of employees continue to handle.
“Our vision is to be both a community of support and a way for people to obtain resources to address parenting and caretaking responsibilities,” Adam says.
The ERG quickly amassed more than 250 members as word spread about its existence.
- Almost all identify as both parents and caretakers
- About three-fourths of the members identify as women
- Most members are located in North America, but there are growing numbers in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), Latin America and Asia Pacific regions.
The Partnering for Change subcommittee is a huge part of the ERG’s initial efforts. “This subcommittee brings together the voices of PaCT membership so that the RA responsible team can evaluate the feedback. The intent to find new ways to bring value to employees so they can and want to bring their best selves to work,” Adam adds.
That includes making it easier for individuals to understand and find the resources that are already available that they may not know are there. Raising awareness about available resources and tools is one thing, Nadine says, but PaCT helps members learn even more by sharing experiences and best practices. “It’s helpful to have examples of what others have done, and the results they’ve seen. Knowledge sharing and advice giving is very beneficial,” she says.
Inbar is passionate about creating and encouraging empathy around these roles. With flexibility being a top reason that parents and caregivers leave their jobs, it’s important that the ERG focuses on exploring the definitions of workplace flexibility at Rockwell, as well as building connections and a sense of belonging.
“We sent a survey after our first meeting, which had breakout rooms for parents of young children, parents of older children, and caretakers. The number one response was, people felt they were no longer alone. They met others who were like them,” Inbar says.
Not only do members get support from the group, but they are able to provide it to others. Caretakers and parents are self-sacrificing at home, putting the needs of others first. But they don’t always realize how much their experiences can help others.
“If you’re dealing with a caretaking situation, and you’re trying to take care of an aging relative or children, you don’t realize how much you learn and are able to give to other people,” says Dave, now a lead for Subgroups and Peer-Mentor Circles in PaCT. “When you realize you have something to give, it can make you more fulfilled in the role you’re playing at home.”