Three years ago, when I was a brand-new working parent, I returned to work from maternity leave reinvigorated, reenergized, and ready to take on the world. Empowered by the strengths I gained during maternity leave, I knew I wanted to spend my time doing work that made a difference.
However, it was also a time of transition. As I navigated the waters of early life as a working mum, I looked for ways to unify my professional identity with my new identity as a mother.
The fact that I worked for a family-friendly law firm representing working mothers in workplace discrimination matters helped me feel connected to motherhood even as I attended court hearings and wrote briefs in my office.
However, I still felt somewhat disconnected from the rest of my peers in the legal community who had chugged on while I had focused on early motherhood.
When I stumbled upon the Working Parents Committee of the local chapter of my state women’s bar association (“WBASNY”) a few weeks after I returned from maternity leave, I knew I had found my people.
Within two months of joining my WBASNY chapter’s Working Parents Committee, I became co-chair. In the years since, I’ve reaped many benefits from being a part of the group. As such, I always encourage working parents to join working parents groups near them, or to create one where there is not already a group available.
Why Join a Working Parents Committee?
Working parents committees/working parents groups benefit working mums and dads because they permit working parents to embrace their identity as parents while also allowing them to engage in traditional career advancement opportunities.
They are great for networking, continued career education, advocacy, and camaraderie. These committees also provide a way to unite the sometimes-conflicting identities of parent and professional and let working parents know they are not alone in the challenges they face.
Here are five benefits of belonging to a working parents committee.
1. Networking opportunities that fit your schedule.
One of the biggest complaints working parents have in relation to professional networking events is that they are often held during times parents cannot attend.
That networking happy hour that may have been perfect pre-parenthood just doesn’t work when you need to pick up a child from school or daycare or can’t get a babysitter for the evening hours. Not to mention that evenings are often the only time working parents get to spend with their families during the work week.
Belonging to a working parents committee gives you the opportunity to create and attend events that fit your life as a working mum or dad.
For instance, over the years my committee has held numerous weekend networking sessions at kid-friendly locations allowing attorneys to bring their families. The events usually last two or three hours, so families can come, have fun, and get on with their day. During that time, real professional connections are also made–just as they would be at a traditional networking event.
The type of networking activities you create may look different, but the idea will be the same: if you want to see a change in the type of professional events available to you as a working parent, be the change yourself.
2. Friendships with other working parents.
Connecting with other mums or dads as a working parent is hard. You’re not able to attend weekday playgroups, story time sessions, or other activities available during the workday.
Working parents committees are a great way to meet other working parent friends who share the same struggles.
For the past three years, my working parents committee has met nearly every month for lunchtime meetings at my firm’s office. There, I have met many working parents I may not have otherwise encountered, many of whom have become friends.
We discuss items on the planned agenda, but we also laugh about the latest antics from our kids and sympathize with the hectic pace at which our lives seem to move.
When a committee member has a baby, we send flowers.
We’ve met eachother’s kids, have sent meals and new baby gifts, and have become real life friends.
3. Ability to advocate for other working parents.
Joining a working parents committee allows you to make a difference in the lives of other working parents.
In the past, my committee has held a continued legal education (CLE) course focused on the rights of parents in the workplace. We’ve also conducted a survey to understand the struggles working parents face in our legal community, have written on the problems with parental leave policies locally and nationally, and have created a guide listing the designated private lactation areas courts throughout our judicial district.
We also have small projects we initiate throughout the year that are designed to help working parents—like the “New Parent Survival Basket” we create for the basket raffle at our WBASNY chapter’s Installation Dinner each year.
By joining or creating a working parents committee in your workplace or professional community, you too can make a difference for working parents in your area.
4. Opportunity to create change in your community.
It’s no secret that working parents often face a bias from their employers, particularly those of the generation where men went to work and women stayed home with the children. However, those are not the only individuals who make life harder for working parents. Sometimes working mums who have been in the game for decades are the worst offenders.
There is strength in numbers and joining a working parents group gives you a voice to counter those with a bias and to effect change for present and future generations.
5. Unity of your parent and professional identities.
Finally, being a part of a working parents committee gives you a place to unite the often-conflicting identities of parent and professional.
Depending on your job and work environment, your working parents group might be the only place you feel comfortable sharing stories about your children in a professional setting. It may also be the only safe space you have to vent about the professional struggles you’ve faced as a working parent.
If you are interested in creating a working parents group in your workplace, contact your Human Resources Department (or equivalent) and learn the steps needed to form a group. If you would like to create one through your local professional association, contact the association’s Board of Directors for the same.
Do you have a working parents committee in your workplace or professional community? If so, how has it benefited you?