Family-friendly as an institutional culture

I was recently reading an article on the Women In Astronomy blog how the culture in your department has a big impact on how you perceive your work and your role in the organization. (Does Organizational Culture Matter? ). Naturally you start comparing departments and their cultures and what they emphasized. For example, in my time at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab an enormous amount of time was devoted to health and safety, while perhaps a bit of the start-up entrepreneurship was lost. There are always pros and cons on how an institutional culture affects you.

While, for example, the institution’s stance on, outreach or teaching could be an important point worthy of a blog post, this time around, I would like to focus more on family-friendly culture. It was only fitting that a few weeks ago this interesting video by Bryan Gaensler was released on Youtube. Bryan is the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) at Sydney. His talk deals with family-friendly initiatives at CAASTRO and since it is an astronomy institute I thought it was quite relevant to watch it!

Here are the main points I got from the talk he held:

When advertising a position try to make part-time employment an option. It will leave you money to do something else and even perhaps hire somebody else. The part-time employee will be very dedicated. Don’t exclude a big fraction of very qualified candidates, be flexible in your timelines.
This resonated with me a lot. When I came to Berlin, I was not sure how free I would be with everything. It was not clear how everything would work out with Anna at her new school. My grandmother is not in the best of health. So when the head of my department offered me the half-time option when offering me the position, I was very thankful. I didn’t take it in the end, but I’m sure I would have been *way* more productive than the 20 hours he would’ve been paying me for, it would’ve taken off the guilt we feel that we aren’t working enough and it would’ve left me time for hobbies or other things. Great point and I love that Bryan put it first!

All core meetings should take place between 10-2. Be aware of school holidays. Don’t schedule some important meeting, workshop or similar into those holidays.
This! So much! Look, I can understand that some telecons need to deal with time differences and that some people will be undoubtedly unhappy with set times in large international corporations. But when you would schedule a work event (seminar, team meeting, etc.) at 4pm or later you are basically implying that you do not care about daycare times and are effectively signaling to people with children that those concerns are not valid in your mind.
The same goes for vacations. Here at work we have annual scientific evaluations end of October, which are “strongly recommended” (i.e. mandatory) to attend. For a long time this used to be during school holidays about two months before and it was very hard for people who had school age kids to attend. Don’t assume that conference attendees can just shuffle their kids with them during school holidays. At least be aware!

Welcome the child in the workplace!
I totally get where he’s coming from. He’s not talking about setting up a daycare at work or having toys lying around the office or the workplace suddenly becoming a screaming place. No, it’s that security, that if there’s an emergency, I can let my child come to work with me for some hours, let her play on the iPad a bit or let her draw some things and not feel guilty with other colleagues. It makes it so much easier. When I moved workplaces from the Livermore Lab to IPAC suddenly a world of opportunities opened in that sense, too. It just became a whole lot easier. It’s not about setting up your work to do the babysitting, it’s that even if I just took advantage of it once a year or so, the peace of mind that it is possible is great! Here at work, we are actually in the process of setting up a child-parent room to handle such emergencies, so I am very happy with that.

Discourage working from home, because working from home lets the barrier between work and home fall.
I’m afraid he’s too late with that one with me, heh! But then my computer is a mess of work and personal stuff, too. I am one of those people who does personal stuff in the workplace, too.
Anyway, but I do understand where he’s coming from! As an employer I would definitely not want my employees to be there 24/7 – always available. So there are exceptions when to work from home, e.g. waiting for a repairman, but don’t encourage it! Science is about collaboration and sometimes just walking down the hall to talk to somebody about that crazy idea you just had or that one line of shell script that just isn’t working. You don’t get that at home and many of the interactions (telecons, e-mails, etc.) might seem forced.

Ask yourself if mentioning the parental status of the person is really necessary (this affects women mostly).
I am very happy this doesn’t happen at my institute very much, but I have seen this so often at other places, when a speaker is giving a seminar or so
A friend of mine was thinking of leaving astronomy after having her 2nd child. The relationship with the supervisor was a bit strained because of that – he didn’t want her to leave the job, but he was angry all the time that she left work so early in the afternoon. Ah, but as soon as somebody from outside came to visit the institute, she was the token WOMAN that “yes, it is possible to be a researcher and have two kids”. ugh!
People have children, but it shouldn’t define your professional status! It’s an unconscious stereotype that is easily broken.

Yeah, sure, great science can happen when having a few beers with colleagues. But most of us don’t have that option. Don’t make it a requirement to be part of those social groups to succeed. No after hour social event with work branding!
I really feel for this. When I was a postdoc at Caltech one of the parts that I missed were the social outings that a lot of the other postdocs had. And it was mostly just beer and fun. But I had a family to go home to and wasn’t free in that sense. But that is fine and great and you want to actively encourage socialization outside of the workplace, as long as it doesn’t have an institutional label and it is clear that being part of these social groups is not necessary to be successful at work! Exception: a Christmas party or similar.

Don’t be the boss that is the last to leave! Try to say goodbye to people who work with you.
It sends a signal that it is ok to leave at 5, it makes people feel less guilty about leaving work (early). As a leader don’t feel like you need to hide that you need to leave work for personal reasons. If you don’t have guilt leaving for personal reasons it will make the others feel less guilt, too.

A few things about parking, carer’s leave and flexible culture which I won’t go into deeper, but which lead into an immensely important point.

Talk to people about impostor syndrome, let them know you have it, too.
Oh boy, this is a big one. I think the majority of us suffer from it. Even though *I know* that I am an efficient programmer, I still sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that my current position was gained through a combination of hard work and luck, but not out of inherent skill. Somebody surely will find out soon that I don’t really belong here.
Please, please read JohnJohn’s thoughts on this matter.

Being a family-friendly institution is a choice of culture, but I am definitely happy that I am working at an institution that embraces that choice!

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