The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, Jorge Elorza, has sparked discourse on children in the workplace by bringing his 1-year-old son, Omar, to work nearly every day — including during public appearances and events.
Men are already more likely than women to be applauded for staying at home with their children, and a man leaving work to help with parental responsibilities is seen as something to be celebrated. This is not the case for women.
A stunning survey by Bright Horizons revealed that 41 percent of the workforce perceive working mothers as less dedicated to their jobs and a similar amount disagree with mothers’ request for different accommodations. It is interesting, then, that many are praising Elorza for his dedication to fatherhood, even when at work, while women are criticized for attempting to find a work-family balance.
Many employers are compassionate about last-minute child emergencies and allow exceptions for working parents, but Elorza essentially took it upon himself to decide he was above those norms and uses his office as a second nursery, while expecting teachers and other employees find other ways to deal with their families’ childcare needs.
Elorza’s argument that he could not afford daycare on his $118,000 salary is weak, and undermines the struggles of actual low-income families to find childcare and work at least one job, if not more, to provide necessities for their families.
If Elorza expects the public to welcome his choice to frequently bring his child to work, he should integrate that ideology into policy toward parental leave and accommodations for working parents, including other public employees.
It would be an abuse of power to impose special rules for himself and continue to refuse public workers the opportunity to explore the possibility of transferring their own childcare into the workplace. If he does not take action to improve conditions for all working parents, he is explicitly benefitting from a double standard.
Allowing all employees to bring their children to work would be a logistical nightmare, and the root of this situation — the widespread inaccessibility of childcare to working families — is more urgent than “babies at work” policies.
Elorza not only asks his staffers to care for the child at times, but the toddler has been recorded to be disruptive in public settings, most notably when a public safety commissioner was commenting on gun violence and a recent shooting during a press conference.
By being selective about when he does or does not allocate his childcare responsibilities to his staff could also be used to argue that he is feeding into the age-old publicity stunt of “kissing babies.” Even when the child was disrupting a serious moment, Elorza allowed his son to become the center of attention.
This should be a starting point for a conversation on how the same benefits can be applied to women and how to break the pattern of applauding men for something that is expected of women.