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Jenny Shiers


Senior Director, Employee Success

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How to be inclusive of working parents during times of crisis

Employers must be mindful of the unique challenges working parents face right now.

With schools closed in 188 countries, there are now more than 1.5 billion students learning from home. The Covid-19 pandemic is impacting many parents as they juggle working, parenting, and homeschooling. It’s clear this is anything but business as usual. 

For example, the other day, my colleague and I were half-way through recording a training session when my four-year-old son came waddling in, yelling at the top of his lungs that he needed someone to play with — pronto. While I felt apologetic to my colleague about having to restart the recording from scratch — 32 minutes into it — I also felt overcome with love for my sweet little man. Working from home while parenting is messy, unpredictable, exhilarating, and exhausting. 

As part of our Leading through Change series, we are committed to sharing our learnings with our greater Salesforce community. Managing a remote team from afar can be a daunting task in itself. Here are some personal anecdotes from our leaders at Salesforce on how they’re navigating this work/life balance.

Seven tips for how to be inclusive of working parents

1. Tony Prophet, Chief Equality Officer

“Now more than ever, it’s important to practice inclusive leadership and empathy. Start your meetings with a focus on the health and safety of your colleagues and their family. Simply asking, ‘how are you doing today?’ can go a long way. When scheduling calls, be extra mindful about the time windows such as mornings and lunch hours, which can be particularly busy times for working parents.

As a leader, do your best to make those with childcare responsibilities feel heard and validated. If you’re comfortable, talk about your own challenges and even invite your kids to stop by and say hi to underscore the point. For me, it’s been a journey of discovery as we’re now homeschooling my nine-year-old who often is a guest on my calls.

Lastly, don’t make presumptions on childcare workloads based on gender identity. For example, many kids have two dads or two moms, or some may be single parents — this issue transcends gender identity. Seek to understand how each team member may be personally impacted and how you can better support them.”

2. Jody Kohner, Senior Vice President of Employee Engagement

“I think the most important thing we can do for our kids right now is model a positive attitude. Remind them that we will get through this, together. It won’t last forever, and, we’ll be stronger as a family unit because of it. It’s not easy, and every day is definitely not a good day, but I also find silver linings in being able to step away from my work and hug them through their tears, fears, and frustrations. I am mindful that these are precious moments, and if they were all grown up, I wouldn’t be able to kiss away their tears so easily.

I am also lucky to have a boss and colleagues who trust me to focus on what is most important in each moment, and understand that I, like every other working parent, am doing the very best I can. I try to bring this same level of grace and understanding to my colleagues, family, and friends.” 

3. Bret Taylor, President and Chief Operating Officer

“These difficult times really shine a light on the importance and value in the moments with our family. For example, I’ve been able to share my passion for music with my kids. We’ve pulled out my old college guitars and have been rocking out together every night. I love it.

As leaders, it’s important that we recognise that things aren’t business as usual. Give your employees the space and permission to not only manage having their kids at home, but also really enjoy the moments they have together. Be flexible about working hours, listen and be empathetic to their needs, and support them in finding the right balance between work and home.”

4. Cheryl Sanclemente, Senior Director of Corporate Communications

“Working from home with kids is hard. In my case, I have a ‘threenager,’ a yappy dog, and a husband (who is also working remotely). Send help! I have a newfound appreciation for all the stay-at-home parents and caretakers out there.

During this difficult time, it is near impossible to juggle everything — I personally feel like I’m not measuring up as a colleague or as a parent. So it is more important than ever that we lead with compassion — for others and ourselves — as we adjust to this ‘new normal.’ I have made sure to tell my team to prioritise their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families. That means no non-essential meetings, flexibility, and cross-team collaboration. It has been a true honour watching the team come together to support one another during this time.” 

5. Sarah Franklin, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Platform, Trailhead, and Developers

“I would say that it’s important for companies to be flexible and give parents permission to make a schedule that works for them, and to respect the schedule. It’s super important to over communicate within teams on deliverables and expectations. More is better than less during this time. Do your best to stay on time and be respectful of others’ schedules as they also navigate multiple priorities. 

Lead with empathy and grace during this time. We’re all flexing new muscles here. On a personal note, I have also changed my schedule to not take meetings between 1–5 p.m. to split childcare and help my children with distance learning.” 

6. Leah McGowen Hare, Vice President of Trailhead Evangelism

“It is tough being a working parent, it is hard being a teacher, and it is a challenge being a homeschool parent – but, being all three at the same time is nearly impossible. I have boy and girl twins in middle school and a sophomore college student at home. Having the kids on a schedule is super helpful. I still have them make their lunches the night before, so they do not expect me to make lunch as I most likely will be in a meeting.

As for my team, I remind us to be kinder and more patient with each other. We’re reimagining what it’s like to work during this time and how we can all stay connected. We have to remember we are living in a new time and to stay grounded in gratitude. I created a daily gratitude Quip document where my team can share what they are grateful for. This has been an excellent way to get to know them all better, understand what they are experiencing, and build a sense of hope as well as humility during these uncertain times.” 

7. Colin Fleming, Senior Vice President of Brand, Content, and Customer Insights

“This unprecedented situation affects each team member in unique ways, and there is no perfect policy you can write that serves all. It all starts with permission to prioritise personal and family wellbeing, and be sure you are visibly setting that example yourself. Ensure you have protected time with your family and trust your team to find the right balance. 

Take this time to lead with compassion and understanding. No two schedules are alike, and by seeing a glimpse into how each of my team members are approaching this situation — we feel even closer and united as a team like never before. Seek out the positives during this time of uncertainty and be a beacon of light.”

Now is the time to step up, lead with empathy, and be an inclusive leader. At Salesforce, Equality is a core value and we strive to create a workplace where everyone feels seen, valued, and heard. Learn more about our journey toward equality for all.

Our Leading Through Change series provides thought leadership, tips, and resources to help business leaders manage through crisis

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Jenny Shiers

Senior Director, Employee Success

Read more from Jenny Shiers
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