Business Solutions: Working Parents, Summer, and Special Needs Kids

Spring has arrived and the end of the school year is within sight.  Most kids are counting down the days while most working parents are breaking a sweat trying to cobble together two-plus months of camps, vacations, occasional day-trips, and childcare, hoping their plans on paper work in practice.  Add a child, teen, or young adult with special needs and the challenges intensify considerably.

 Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you’re an employer or a manager, here are three ways you can offer support:

FLEXIBILITY RULES

1. Children have needs over the summer, and without school providing a predictable daily schedule, parents struggle.  Add a child with autism or other special needs, and the challenges intensify.  Some children qualify for Extended School Year services, yet they're typically less than a full-day and almost never run from the last day of school in June to the first day of school in late August/early September. 

SOLUTION:  Provide flexible work hours if not already offered, offer parents remote work opportunities, and allow for vacation and personal time to be used in hours or partial days vs. full days.  And be flexible with last-minute and crisis needs that arise.  If your parental leave policies need evaluation, now is the time to do it.  Companies that are aware and responsive to these needs are those that retain working parents.

PRIVACY HELPS

2. Children with special needs who are attending camp and other summer programs often have needs that require parent assistance.  And it's not the "I forgot my swimsuit" type of need either.  Therapies, tutoring, and other supports continue throughout the summer, putting extra pressure on already stressed parents with exceptional caregiving responsibilities when it comes to juggling work, appointments, transportation and more.

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SOLUTION:  Allow parents access to a specially-designated office or private space for them to make telephone calls, schedule a video conference with camp personnel or support staff, schedule appointments, and confer with doctors, clinicians, and others as needed.  It can reduce time away from the office and provides employees with the privacy they need.  Plus, it demonstrates that the company understands the stressors involved with exceptional caregiving responsibilities, not only on a daily basis but also during the challenging summer months as well.

SUPPORTS MATTER

3. Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or similar needs require structure and predictability, and the summer months are often when this is difficult to achieve and maintain.  Parents prepare as best as possible, yet situations develop that require them to adapt and adjust quickly.  A particular camp may not work.  A childcare provider may leave.  A therapist may request additional evaluations.  These situations mean that employees need time and resources to help. 

SOLUTION:  Communicate to all employees that their EAP is available to assist with issues that relate to summer needs, whether locating a last-minute child care provider or addressing stress-related issues.  Providing employees with access to resources to help them manage their children’s needs as well as their own work/life issues is key to employee retention.  And if employee assistance or work/life programs or services are not yet available, now is the time to start.

One of the things we consistently hear from working parents is that they need more support and assistance, whether managing their children's needs or understanding how to navigate through school.  And these needs are year-round, often intensifying over the summer months as planning for September begins well before this school year ends. 

Employers play a pivotal role, not only in creating family-friendly workplaces, but in recognizing that many working parents have needs that are not so apparent...or even discussed, and that go way beyond infancy.  Offering flexibility and supports to parents throughout the year, especially over the summer months, can make all the difference in helping top performing employees remain on the job.

It's True...Working Women Are Mothers Too

 Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you're a woman who works outside of the home and a mother as well, you get it in spades.  If not, it's time to. 

Women are more than 50% of the workforce.  And many of these same women are also mothers, raising children.  Problem is, the business world doesn't seem to fully understand what this means.  Yet.

There are some areas where businesses are starting to listen and beginning to understand -- wage equality, paid family leave, and the push for more women in leadership positions.  All important issues, not only for women but for our society as a whole.  

And most of us would agree that work/life issues as they impact working mothers (and fathers) are "at the table" today in many business discussions.  Steps forward.  Yet particularly for working mothers, the steps aren't far enough. 

The realities are that millions of working mothers are unable to achieve and maintain any modicum of work flexibility and many fail to take or use their full maternity leave.  Many are being challenged in terms of their commitment to their job when a need arises regarding their children (and make no mistake about it...these "needs" continue for 21+ years).  And still others - and there are more than is known - are being forced, often in subtle but powerful ways, to choose between their careers/jobs and being a parent. 

I don't know anyone who would want to face these kinds of choices.

Let's think about a few things:

Do companies truly believe that it's still okay, in 2018, for such struggles to exist for working mothers?   Would those in senior leadership accept the same for their wives, daughters, or granddaughters?  And yes, I realize that women can be the ones exerting this pressure too.

Do companies think choosing motherhood means that their education and experience becomes an afterthought or that the time they've spent investing in and creating their careers suddenly has no meaning?  Or value?

Do companies not understand the big picture and think that the time (measured in years) working mothers spend raising and instilling values and qualities in their children - the same ones companies want in their future employees ... things like integrity, honesty, respect and kindness - happens in only a brief few months?  Or by age 5?

There are firms developing career reentry initiatives to help working mothers return to the workforce after spending "x" number of years raising their children.  And recommendations are now seeing the light of day for how to address a gap in a resume when it relates to parenting.   Why is stating that raising the next generation is something to be ashamed of, to excuse, or to hide?  Since when did raising a child equate to something to apologize for?  What messages are we giving and being forced to accept? 

Working women who are mothers deserve to have their abilities and their needs supported, both as parents and employees.  And this happens when "family-friendly" companies as defined by their culture and behaviors up and down the organization resonate with every working mother no matter their position, title or role.  Policies are great, but don't replace attitudes and actions.

For those companies truly embracing working mothers and not asking or expecting an explanation or apology about their life choices or how they've spent or spend their time, hats off.  And for those who aren't there yet, it's okay...we aren't going anywhere and our voices will continue to be heard.

 

So…How Was Your Working Parents Day?

Just wondering…did this week’s recognition of Working Parents Day change your life in any way?  I’m not a betting person yet I’ll wager not.  Yesterday was likely the same as today and tomorrow will likely follow suit.

Here’s the thing…I’m all for bringing attention to causes.  Hell…I support many myself and applaud those who work tirelessly to raise awareness and generate support for anything that will help another person.  Or many other people.  But I do have a problem with a day coined “Working Parents Day” when the reality is that a day hardly does this cause justice.

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it — working parents have a herculean task that faces them at sunrise every day and doesn’t end until their weary bodies fall into bed at night.  And why do they do it?  Because they value their efforts and contributions at work as they hold dear their roles as Moms and Dads.  As they should.  And they shouldn’t have to choose.

Married or single parent.  One child or several.  Raising a middle schooler or guiding a college junior.  Family support or at the rodeo alone.  Self-employed or employee.  Each and every working parent deserves recognition that goes far beyond the day set aside to do so.  Instead of assigning a name to a day, why don’t we start to truly listen to working parents and do better at meeting their needs.

Many companies are definitely doing a great job of providing a multitude of supports and programs to help all their employees be productive, engaged, and healthy.  Yet many companies are still far behind the curve and even in those organizations where exceptional benefits are the norm, working parents continue to struggle.  And part of the reason is that their needs, for better or worse, are different.  And these differences mean different solutions.

We tend to take notice when a societal crisis hits and then scramble to try to figure out why it happened and what immediate solution can mitigate the seriousness of the situation.  It’s the reactive vs. proactive mode of operation, one that rarely succeeds.  And if we really take a minute to examine this crisis, it involves our children who require far more from their parents today — and I don’t mean more i-Phones or designer clothes — than ever before.  They need time.  Years ago it was latchkey kids.  Today it’s an explosion of afterschool programs to keep children involved vs. walking the streets.  But the buck begins and ends with parents and many are unable to stretch any farther.

So for those who created Working Parents Day, I say forget the day.  Instead, let’s take a look at how we can help the Dad who can’t get out of the office before 6:00 knowing his son’s softball games start at 4:30.  Or the Mom whose childcare provider continues to call in sick…at 7:00 when she leaves for work at 7:15.  These are real issues facing real people with real children depending upon them to find solutions.

If this day is celebrated next year, how about giving every working parent Working Parents Day off.  Now this would make a difference.

"Leaning In" By Another Name

I know that there are going to be people who vehemently disagree with my thoughts on this, but that's okay.  I tend to speak up and out particularly if I believe others may be harmed or excluded in some way.  This is no different. Several days ago, I heard Sheryl Sandberg say that "not all women can do what I do."  I stopped for a minute before my head blew off my shoulders, only to conclude that regardless of whether you interpreted this statement as "I'm giddy because I have access to supports and opportunities that other women don't" or  "I'm smarter/more capable than the rest of you," it set me off.

Sandberg's premise that women need to "lean in" in order to achieve, be successful, be recognized as strong negotiators or leaders ... all assume that women are somehow either sitting on their behinds watching the world pass by or are hoping that, someday or somehow, someone (perhaps on a white horse) will recognize their efforts and reward them accordingly.  Her advice that women take more risks and fantasize about their careers assumes that women at any age/stage either aren't or haven't been doing so, or that working mothers in particular have the time or resources to be *able* to take these risks or imagine themselves elsewhere.  Risk-taking and dreaming are great, but neither pays the bills.

For a woman who makes an income with more zeros than most people - women or men - will ever make ... for a woman with the convenience of having a nursery attached to her office so she can easily soothe her child ... for a woman who extols the wonders of having a spouse who helps with the housework and how this makes all the difference ... as far as I'm concerned, this is bullying ... albeit wrapped in a nicer package.

You might say, "Hey...this is an awfully harsh comparison to make to a woman whose purpose is to motivate women to reach high."  I think otherwise.  Why?  Because while bullying takes all forms, there are commonalities - bullying makes the recipient feel bad about themselves.  Makes them question their worth...wonder if they belong...makes them feel  "less than" or somehow lacking.  And yes, I'm vocal about bullying in all forms and ways.

Whether Sandberg cares to acknowledge it or not, there are millions of women "leaning in" every day to be both Mom and Dad as single parents, struggling to maintain their families and their lives.  Millions doing the daily juggling act of work deadlines, sick kids, aging parents, and managing a marriage and home.  Millions whose education, skills, experience, and yes...drive could easily match Sandberg's, yet situations and life have altered their paths.  Does this mean they aren't working hard or smart enough?  That they're slackers who need a swift kick to shift out of neutral and into gear?  I think not.

It seems to me that we're on a collision course between women who define their achievements in terms of rank and salary and those who see their lives and success differently.  Sure, what woman wouldn't like to be making more and have more flexibility and resources at her disposal.  But rewards and recognition - both in business and in life - are personal measures that shouldn't be open to scrutiny by others *unless* they are opening their hands to help.  Real help in real ways.  Women have made huge strides over the past 20 years, in part because other women have reached out - not down - to open doors, offer guidance, and lead the way.  That's why telling women how they're doing things wrong and making women feel bad about themselves is leading us to a critical fork in the road.

The whole "lean in" concept assumes that women haven't been trying hard enough or haven't been striving to reach the bar, placing many on the fringe as outsiders vs. bringing them into the fold as part of a whole.  It reminds me of those dreadful middle school years where cliques of girls would verbally spar with each other to achieve status.  And we know which girls always worked the hardest - and yes, even the smartest - for recognition and acceptance and received it the least.  Isn't it time to forget the catch phrases which alienate and start recognizing that "leaning in" is just one of the many things women are already doing - and doing quite well - and applaud them for such?

Leveling The Playing Field

Parents of high school kids know ... it's SAT and ACT season again.  Stress is on overdrive as everyone is striving for ways to improve scores - tutoring, prep classes, working through the huge practice books at home.  All eyes are focused on the thrill of receipt - opening the mail to find those glorious oversized packages with writing on the outside that says "You're accepted" or "Welcome."  Believe me, I've been there with my own child so understand it well. I just read an article in The New York Times entitled, "It Takes A B.A. To Find A Job As A File Clerk" which focuses on an Atlanta law firm that requires every employee - including the in-house courier making $10/hour - to have a bachelor's degree.  The firm's managing partner said that this requirement shows that every employee has made "a commitment" to their future and not just a paycheck.  Sounds reasonable since college is really about honing skills needed in most every line of employment - organization, planning, meeting deadlines, self-discipline, flexibility, and teamwork.

But here's the problem with requiring all employees to have a degree - there's a big difference between equal and fair.  Equal means the same but fair means, well, fair.  Respecting and supporting individual differences and recognizing that not everyone fits into the same box.  It means understanding that a 5th Grade child with dyslexia reading from a 3rd Grade book and receiving an "A" on an assignment is fair even if others are reading from the 5th Grade text.  That a college student who requires extra time and a quiet room to complete an exam is fair even if others are taking the same in a lecture hall with 150 other students.  It's about evaluating each person as an individual and on their own merits vs. expecting the same for all.  This "life lesson" begins in school and since school is about preparing children for life, shouldn't the same principle apply to the workplace as well?

Expecting every employee to hold a B.A. in order to secure employment means that many bright, capable, and talented young people will be overlooked.   Believe me, I'm a huge proponent of college and helping all students receive their degree, yet not everyone can reach this milestone.  For some it's financial.  For others it's access.  No matter the reason, it's unfair and unreasonable to assume that the reason a young person does not hold an undergraduate degree is because they don't aspire for success or don't want to invest in themselves.

There are many students with learning differences, Asperger's Syndrome, or ADD - with amazing skills and who would be top performers in the workplace - who are unable to navigate the complexities of college.  Maybe they tried but it didn't work.  Maybe they were told to not even consider college as an option.  Regardless of the reason, concluding that a young person without a B.A. is only focused on a paycheck is an arbitrary measure and one that places barriers where, in all likelihood, enormous barriers already exist.  And this includes even when, according to a recruiter referenced in the same article, 800 resumes are received for one job.

We all know people sans a college degree who have made contributions to every area of life - business, the arts, philanthropy, many achieving far more success (recognizing that success is subjective) than those with B.A.'s.  And this certainly includes many with learning or similar differences for whom their commitment to themselves is defined by the struggles they have endured and their "never give up" attitude to forge ahead.  College is wonderful, no doubt, yet self-respect and self-worth trumps it every time.  There's a reason it's called a playing field and not a playing box.  Fields are larger and allow for many to play.  Whether school, employment, or life, the larger the field the better.

So What Makes A Best Company "Best"

I admit it...I love reading the annual "best company" lists.   Seeing what new organizations have finally reached the holy grail and those that continue to rise to the top year after year by setting the employee engagement and retention bar high.   It's an added bonus to read about the "perks", or what I call "mini-benefits", companies provide for employees.  They get more creative (or outrageous) year after year. This year's Fortune list is no different.   To not share a few of my favorites would be like recommending a vacation spot sans photos so yes, a handful follow below.  But first is a shout-out to the tenacious HR and work/life pros whose efforts to sell these ideas to the C-suite when budgets are being cut is exactly what HR is all about...remaining firmly focused on meeting and exceeding the needs of their employees.

So which companies really grabbed my attention this year and why?

  • Boston Consulting Group - issues a "red zone report" to flag when an employee is working excessive long weeks (now *this* is a genuine focus on work/life balance and concerns for the health/stress of employees).
  • Salesforce.com - provides 48 hours of paid time to volunteer (great way to support having a life and involvement outside of the office).
  • Alston & Bird - provides health coverage for autism, infertility, and marriage counseling (talk about an organization that understands and is willing to support life's "real" issues and complexities).
  • ARI - offers unlimited tuition reimbursement (this is career development on overdrive and supports the importance of continuous learning).
  • Teksystems - encourages employees to "share almost everything" about their personal lives (not sure how this is implemented, but it definitely establishes an environment geared toward breaking down barriers on issues that are typically left unspoken).

It's easy to see why these organizations achieved "best company" status.  Their bottom-line success is directly tied to an organizational culture that "walks the talk" when it comes to understanding and supporting the diverse nature of their respective workforces and their needs.  HR may have "made the case," however these organizations clearly have leaders who set the tone. But wait...there's more.

The dog talent show and bring your dog to work day (not sure why all the focus on dogs - what about cats or rabbits).  Horseshoe throwing lessons.  "Pie your manager" competitions.  Mid-morning cider and donuts.  Steak cookouts.  On-site farmers markets (very cool, I must say).

Are these fun?  Unusual?  Great fodder for social media photos?  You bet, but there's a huge difference between providing health coverage for infertility and offering donuts with cider (and I enjoy cider too).  The former drills down into issues - often complex, messy, and human - whereas the latter is like sprinkles on a cake - they may make things look better, but don't necessarily change the taste.

Companies that have achieved "best" status have done so because they've addressed the real needs and tough issues facing their employees.  They've met employees where they are in their lives with an honest recognition and response, demonstrating their willingness - and desire - to do something about the life cycle challenges their employees are facing today or may face tomorrow.

Ask any employee who works at these organizations and I guarantee that a nod of approval to volunteer in their community or to be told to reduce their work hours to better manage their stress trumps bringing their dog to work for the day anytime.  We're a culture that often uses words without really understanding their meaning.  For this year's 100 "best" companies, the meaning is as it is intended ... "that which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable."

Work Or Family...It's All About Relationships

The similarities between workplaces and families are striking. There's the leader or the parent... unproductive staff meetings or holiday gatherings where few people are happy...employees doing more with less or limits on eating out... disengaged employees or family strife with teenagers.

If you really think about it, the one key difference between the workplace and the family is that workplaces pay their employees for the work they do whereas family members pay - in many ways - just for being part of the family.

I just read an article in Forbes entitled "Why Are So Many Employees Disengaged" and the research study cited concludes that the #1 reason is the relationship with the employee's supervisor, costing employers $11 billion annually in employee turnover.  No surprise here, because we know that the attitudes and actions of the person/people at the top frame the experiences of everyone else.  Whether at work or home, it all boils down to the human level or, relationships.

When we look at top workplaces and companies striving for "best places to work" status, we often look at things like professional development, benefits or "perks," or advancement opportunities as the core drivers.  No question these things help keep employees happy and may be easier to measure, but it's the intangibles - often referred to as the softer, "feel good" things - that make for those workplaces and families we'd like to call our own or strive to create.

Relationships are built on people feeling listened to, respected, involved, and appreciated.  It's sustained when everyone feels "part of" and knows - deep down at a personal level - that they're a needed cog in the wheel to move things forward.  It's not surprising at all that the key issue related to disengagement involves the relationships (or lack thereof) of the people who are most closely aligned.  Rather, the question to be asked is what's being done to improve these fractured or non-existent relationships and is it a priority?

The workplace defines what people do.  Families define who people are.  Each revolves around relationships ... more complex and harder to quantify, but enviable if you don't have them and fortunate if you do.  Whether at work or at home, it's the quality of the relationships of the people involved that makes all the difference.   As a proverb says, "No road is long with good company."

The Juggle & Struggle Of Work/Life

The supermarket is a great place to tap into the pulse of people's lives.  I don't eavesdrop, but discussions often occur in such a way that I'm sure the people doing the talking must think they're in a bubble and can't be overheard.  I could write a book on the things I've heard while shopping for bread and grapes and I'm sure you could too.

SUPERMARKETS ... MORE THAN JUST FOOD

Standing at the deli counter recently, I heard two women - who clearly had not seen each other in a while - sharing their respective "tsoris" (Yiddish for suffering or hurt).  One was doing most of the talking about her elderly father who needed to move into an assisted living facility while her pre-teen child was going through his own difficulties and angst.  I could relate (and wanted to say so) since I went through the independent living/assisted living/nursing home/hospice nightmare with my own father several years ago while my child was dealing with unrelenting bullying in school.  I could see in her face - and I only glanced quickly - that she was barely functional.

There was no way to know whether this woman was also working outside of the home but if so, her candle was not burning at both ends but was about to be extinguished.  Issues of this magnitude have a significant impact on a person's work as family needs overlay all else.  And because life isn't linear and these life situations don't exist in neat, succinct packages where you deal with one thing at a time, chaos can become a way of existence.

IT'S NOT THIS OR THAT

Work/life is a "juggle and a struggle" but just as importantly, it's not an either/or scenario.  While every employee at every life stage is dealing with different issues, one thing is for sure ... it's a rare individual who is facing just one work/life challenge.  Issues often arise together or back-to-back, creating a push-pull ripe with conflict and forcing a rapid shift in priorities, all while taking a daily toll in virtually every aspect of life.

A working parent vs. a single person.  Someone with medical issues vs. someone facing retirement.  An employee with financial pressures vs. one with elder care needs.  Every need and situation is different and "best companies" are constantly searching for ways to respond.  Yet it's essential that organizations also recognize that it's not an either/or scenario ... that many employees are dealing with more than one issue and many times, more than one at a time.  And these needs continue to evolve and change.

WHAT'S TOP OF MIND

It's often the case that when one situation abates, another quickly take its place.  Some issues are never revealed or discussed, yet take a huge toll on an employee's functioning and health.  Others require so much of a person's time and attention that achieving any balance is beyond reach.  Sometimes an employee can barely catch his/her breath before it hits the fan again and while the fan keeps on spinning, so does the employee.

There's really no difference between the ebb and flow of business and the ebb and flow of life.  With one exception.  I've yet to hear anyone in the supermarket talking about profit margins or sales quotas, but do hear plenty about marriages, children, elderly parents, college applications, teens in crisis, divorces, foreclosures, and the need for vacations.  It's not that people aren't thinking about work or that it isn't important.  It's just that home, family, and life are what's being discussed at the deli counter.

A Discussion Whose Time Has Come

I love pets.  Dogs, cats...wonderful creatures.  They share our homes and make us laugh in YouTube videos.   They're special members of our families.  I used to have pets so I get it.  Truly.  And I know that comparing a Collie or short-hair to anything else is probably unfair.  But life isn't always fair. In the world of work/life where companies are striving for employees be happy and productive, many are offering "pet insurance" to ease the financial pressures pet owners face.  The thinking is that employees will worry less about the vet bill and more about the looming client deadline.  I'm in favor of anything that helps an employee balance -- or better juggle -- their often competing life responsibilities.  Which brings me to the comparison.

I just read an article where the focus was parents talking to parents about what to expect when their child is diagnosed with autism.  Nothing new, as I've spent 14 years *listening* in corporations, online forums, parent support groups, and a host of other places where parents come together to share the "real scoop" on life pre and post an autism diagnosis.  I've heard most of it and with every story heard, I find myself shaking my head both in disbelief and admiration.

In this recent article, one parent said: "Be prepared to go into debt, borrow from family, increase your mortgage, take out a line of credit to pay for interventions...".   Go into debt.  Borrow from family.  Take out a line of credit. Can you imagine being a parent who needs to take out a loan to get your child what he or she needs?  Sitting down with your parents to ask them for money so their grandchild can learn to speak ... or make a friend?  Trying to decide whether you can keep working to pay off that loan or repay your parents (not to mention pay for all the *other* needs) when the time you'll need to orchestrate your child's daily and weekly schedule will take far more than two weeks paid vacation or short-term family leave?

Which brings me back to pets.   I realize this may not be popular with the "pet set," but if -- as a former HR Director with a choice to make -- I had to choose between supporting the needs of employees with children or pets, children win.  Hands-down.  Before the barbs are tossed, it's important to say that in an ideal world, every employee's needs would be supported so that everyone would be fully productive and engaged.  But this isn't the ideal world and choices are part of the equation.  Companies grapple with decisions about where to put their limited benefits dollars and how many choices to offer employees when benefits options are included.  But -- and my shield is poised -- there's a huge difference between helping an employee pay for a flea treatment vs. helping an employee raise a child.

Children who will attend college, work in companies, pay taxes.  Children who will make contributions to science, technology, performing arts.  Who will move from dependent children to independent adults poised to purchase the products and services your company produces or provides.  No one would ever want less for a child.  And no one would ever dare limit a child by a diagnosis.  Yet the future for these children rests on their parents -- current working parents facing choices that defy description.

So it's baffling to me that smart, forward-thinking companies seem to place more importance on helping employees care for their pets than to raise their children.   Is it a lack of understanding or a reluctance to get involved?  Or is it a preconceived idea that children with autism will not reach the expectations that many consider to be "typical" of children moving into adulthood so why bother?  No, it can't be that.

A number of years ago, I worked with parents who sold their home and moved into a small, two-bedroom apartment turning their second bedroom into a therapy room for their child.  They also sold their second car and carried their "change of season" clothes packed into large plastic containers in the trunk of their car.  And just recently, I met parents who are in the throws of bankruptcy because they used every penny they had and maxed out their credit cards to support their child's needs.  Life-altering choices are being made by employees every day to help their children.

Companies play a pivotal role here.   The same subsidies offered to employees trying to adopt should be offered to employees to help offset the staggering costs of therapies or home-interventions.  Discounts on legal support should be extended to employees in need of a special education attorney to secure a private school for their child.  On-site health fairs should include experts in special needs and special education to enable employees to access supports and resources easily and more cost-effectively.  With health and stress-reduction being core areas of focus in the workplace, few things compare to the financial, family, work, and personal pressures on an employee raising a 6-year-old or 13-year-old with autism.

I have nothing against pets.  Really, no problems at all.  But a problem does exist when supporting tails that wag or fluffy balls that purr seem to take priority.  A disconnect exists -- companies are striving and competing to achieve "best company" status yet are overlooking the growing number of working parents desperately needing a lifeline.  Pets and children can live together beautifully both at home and in the workplace, however when a choice needs to be made, the child has to win every time.

Your Archenemy Could Well Be Your Ally

No words can adequately describe the level of sadness and horror I, like so many others, feel for people and families across the Mid-Atlantic states -- particularly New Jersey and New York -- who experienced such loss this week when Hurricane Sandy blew into their lives.  Every news report, every picture, and every person interviewed continues to bring the realities of this enormous tragedy into focus. Earlier this week when President Obama met Governor Christie to tour the ravaged areas of his state, something really big happened.  Two people from different backgrounds, with different viewpoints and perspectives, and striving for different goals came together and worked as one.   They viewed what was happening through one lens...through one heart.  Watching them praise the other for their leadership was truly something to see.  It showed us how people can indeed focus on a goal without the noise that often accompanies it.

As I watched the news reports of the hours they spent together, I realized that this was a great lesson about life.  And in my wheelhouse, "life" revolves around business, working parents, and children.  It involves companies and their employees, parents and children's schools.  In both of these scenarios, you often find individuals with very different ways of looking at the world.  Many with very different needs and expectations as well as paths to achieving what, in some situations, could be regarded as similar goals.

I often find that employers fail to recognize that their greatest asset -- not on paper or in an annual report but in practice -- is their people.  People with complex lives, juggling work/life issues, and facing challenges that often leave them feeling overwhelmed.  I also find that schools often fail to recognize that a child's parents are the most critical players in any education matter.  Teachers have the instructional expertise, which is one perspective, yet parents have a far more holistic perspective -- knowing their child best.

From meetings where employee evaluations are conducted to IEP meetings where a child's educational goals are discussed, people working on different sides of the table (or from different perspectives on a common issue) can learn from what Barack Obama and Chris Christie did this week...they more than simply reached across the aisle ... they forgot that an aisle even existed.   And, just as importantly, it showed us that those who may once be regarded as an archenemy -- or someone who simply does not see things as we do -- could well turn out to be the ally needed to move mountains.

 

Children At Risk

Over the past several weeks, we have heard far too much about our children ending their lives because of relentless bullying and harassment that has left them vulnerable and, they believed, without choices.  And just when it appeared as though adults were starting to "get with the program", recognizing that they need to make the message of tolerance and acceptance part of the everyday method of operation -- including President Obama's message that bullying is *not* just part of the teenage scene -- in walks Clint McCance. In case you were not aware, McCance is a school board member at the Midland School District in Arkansas who, on his Facebook page, made his feelings clear about gays and suicide -- he approves and, in fact, he stated that the day he will wear purple is the day that all gays follow suit.  He also stated that he would disown his children if they were gay.  Need I say more?

Actually, I do need to say more.  When we typically think of children at risk, we think of children from underprivileged households or those with learning disabilities.  Rarely did our thoughts go to the adults charged with keeping our children safe as putting our children at risk.

Despite a public apology (using that term loosely) and an announcement of his resignation on CNN (Anderson Cooper), there is absolutely nothing that shows me that this individual has any intention of changing his feelings or perspectives nor has any plan to educate himself and/or engage with the gay community to begin to integrate understanding, acceptance, and tolerance into his repertoire.

The message cannot be stated powerfully enough...the safety of our children is paramount.  They must be safe to be who they are regardless of their sexual identity, religious beliefs, or political views.  They must know that there are people around them who are "on their side" and are supporting them as they spread their wings from childhood into adulthood, allowing them to develop their path freely and without fear.

The dialogue is starting -- a first step.  Yet it is not enough.  Until parents and adults step-back and consider their role in creating an environment -- whether at home, school, or the community -- whereby *all* children can be safe, we all remain responsible for putting our children at risk.