A man with children
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Four Questions to Make Work-Related Travel More Equitable for Parents

Is that team offsite in Mexico worth sacrificing family time?

I was recently invited to speak at DevOps Days Chicago, several hundred miles away from my home. This will be my first multi-day business trip since my daughter was born almost five years ago. As I’ve been preparing my slides, I’ve also been preparing my child care arrangements and realizing just how much more difficult business travel is now compared to my child-free, early-career years. Now that pandemic travel restrictions have been largely lifted, my Instagram feed is routinely filled with photos from lavish work off-sites that former colleagues have taken. I can’t help but wonder, “How the hell would I make that trip with kids at home?” Many of the companies flaunting exotic corporate retreats also tout their commitment to EID, but how equitable are those off-sites for the parents on your team? Do the organizers understand what they’ve asked their employees to sacrifice by mandating travel just so you can do some team bonding on the beach? Many conferences also have goals around getting more diversity in their speaking panels and attendee lists. What might organizers do to make it easier for parents to attend? I’ve assembled this list of questions for event organizers in an attempt to spark proactive conversations that will make your event more inclusive for the parents involved.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Question 1: How will you support parents who are breastfeeding while they attend your event?

Breastfeeding is legitimately hard. Employers are legally required to provide a safe, clean space for any breastfeeding parent to express milk while they’re on the clock — that includes during work-required travel. While not legally required, conference organizers should also make space for breastfeeding parents. It is not acceptable to just assume a baby can drink formula while the parent is gone; If milk is not expressed on a regular feeding schedule, the body assumes there is less demand for milk and supply will dry up. This means your “fun” work outing or conference could permanently damage a parent’s ability to breastfeed in the future. Here are my suggestions for how to better support breastfeeding parents away from their infants:

  1. Schedule plenty of breaks in the event to allow parents to pump breast milk. A typical pumping session is 10–30 minutes. A parent may need to pump between 1 and 3 times in a typical workday, and likely more if the event runs late. Remember, a body needs fuel to make milk in the first place, so make sure parents have enough time to feed themselves AND pump.
  2. Provide a safe, clean space for pumping and refrigeration to ensure milk stays cool. The space should be private, have an outlet to plug in a breast pump, and be close to the main events so parents aren’t running all over the hotel during their break time.
  3. If the trip is more than a day or two, subsidize the cost of shipping breastmilk home.
  4. Never spring a surprise trip on a breastfeeding parent. They may not have enough supply stored up to cover the time they will be away.
  5. If most attendees will be flying, provide maps to lactation rooms within the airport and look up the airline’s policies on supporting breastfeeding while in flight.
Photo by BBC Creative on Unsplash

Question 2: What impact will the trip have on the daily schedules of parents who attend?

Going from a two parent household to a one parent household, even temporarily, is a very disruptive event. Single parents have even less flexibility to leave their children behind. If you’re asking an employee to leave their family behind for a week, how will their child get to daycare or school on time? Who will take them to soccer practice and make sure they do their homework? Kids aren’t like cats — you can’t just have a friend pop in once every three days to refill their bowl and scoop their poop. Here are my suggestions for making time away easier for parents to manage:

  1. Make the event family friendly — allow attendees to bring their children and provide activities for the kids to do for free while the parent attends.
  2. Allow attendees to book their own travel. This allows them to schedule flights around things like daycare drop off before they head to the airport.
  3. Schedule the event so the earliest and latest sessions are optional so that if travel plans go awry, the attendee is less likely to miss the most valuable sessions.
  4. Sponsor a day-program or camp for the children of attendees back home.
  5. Subsidize the cost of taxis, public transit, or ride sharing services for children old enough to travel alone but unable to drive themselves while their parent(s) are away.
  6. Spring for a meal-kit subscription or pay for a few delivered meals to make it easier to feed the kids while a parent is traveling.
  7. Pay for a premium subscription to a babysitter or nanny finding service like care.com so parents can find a caregiver they can trust.
  8. Make sure to schedule breaks in the day so parents can check in with their caregiver(s) or just pop in for story time and say goodnight.
  9. Send postcards from the event to the kids back home. Kids love getting mail.
Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

How will required business travel affect the finances of parents who attend?

The disruptions to family schedules mentioned above typically require another set of hands to be employed to help ensure the children’s needs are met. If a family doesn’t have extended family or friends close by willing to help, that means paying for expensive after school programs, babysitters, or nannies. For some families, the extra child care duties required when one parent is traveling may mean lost wages for the parent still at home. Even if you plan to make the event family friendly, can your employees afford to bring their children along? Here are a few ways to offset the financial burden of having a working parent travel:

  1. Subsidize the cost of family members’ travel to the event.
  2. Provide a daily financial stipend for a nanny or babysitter while away.
  3. Understand the impact a parent being away from home may have on their partner’s work schedule and earning potential. Consider providing additional subsidies to cover their lost wages.
  4. If traveling internationally, subsidize the cost of calling home to discuss care plans or any issues that arise with the children.

Can this event be hybrid?

There are countless valid reasons an employee may not be comfortable leaving their child behind to travel to your event. If a parent says they can’t make it work, respect that. Accommodate their need to put family first and make the event a hybrid one if at all possible. If the attendee doesn’t typically work from home, consider the following to make attending the event virtually more appealing:

  1. Subsidize the equipment needed to attend from home — make sure attendee has reliable internet, a camera, a headset, etc so they can be seen and heard by everyone.
  2. Plan your sessions in ways that work for hybrid settings.
  3. Allow the attendee to sign into the virtual event from a coffee shop, co-working space, or other “off-site” so they get the experience of being out of the office without the significant time away from family.

This concludes my list of how to make work-related events more parent-friendly. What did I miss? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

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Abby Allen

Abby Allen

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Abby Allen is a user-focused product manager, engineer, entrepreneur, and mom based in Minneapolis, MN.