I have had a lot of reaction to my previous article on whether or not it’s OK to talk about your kids at work. Some agree with my take on it, others don’t.
I wrote that over the years, I’ve noticed that in business settings, people are much more tolerant of men when they talk about their kids at work. Talking about their kids makes men more human, but I feel it still makes women appear less professional
Then, I asked for readers’ thoughts on talking about kids at work and whether they think there’s a career penalty for doing it.
Working mothers and fathers weighed in.
Samantha H. Coyne, employer outreach manager at Duquesne University School of Law, made a great point when she wrote to me and said: “I understand your point of view, but I firmly believe that by not talking about their children, even (gasp!) while at work, attitudinal shifts will never occur. As more and more co-workers see more and more competent women who are happy to acknowledge that they can parent AND work, stereotypes will slowly erode.”
Judi Furman wrote: “Starting any new job you must not talk about your kids or even caring for elderly parents, as your employer must believe your job is your priority. Thirty years ago when establishing myself in my career, I never mentioned my children. I was actually working in a pediatric office.
”After about three months, my supervisor asked if I had any kids. When I told her I had five kids between the ages 3 and 11 years, there was a large gasp of disbelief. Soon after, all us working mothers would support each other on the job and even take phone calls from the children whose mothers were not available at the time of their need. I was very lucky and blessed to work in this environment for over 20 years.”
Israel Kreps, co-owner of Krep DiMaria Public Relations, weighed in with a male point of view: “If you work in a place that has camaraderie, people tend to talk about their personal lives and it doesn’t get more personal than your kids. But you can overdo it and then it becomes downright annoying. So, I think you have to gauge who you’re talking to and the office environment.”
I asked Israel if he thinks it’s more harmful to a woman’s career to talk about kids at work. He says: “It can be harmful to anyone’s career to obsessively talk about anything that isn’t work-related at work.” If you’re a man who works with mothers, you should talk some about your children, Israel says. “It brings a human element to you. But keep it small talk.”
So, in summary, I’m not advising never to talk about your kids at work. But I’m suggesting you gauge with whom and when you bring them up. I would like to think that working mothers aren’t put into a box or penalized for trying to balance work and family, but I’m not sure that’s the case. I look forward to the day that changes.
Cindy Krischer Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org