There are many issues I have with workplace culture and the way parents are perceived and treated. There’s one particular aspect that’s been bothering me for a little while and it’s the phrase ‘soft skills.’ When a mum or a dad takes time out of the workplace to care for and raise children, they’re often given credit for developing ‘soft skills.’
It’s a ridiculous and frankly patronising way to talk about someone. It fails to recognise the depth and breadth of skills you develop as a parent that are vital to running any organisation.
I’ve been the main carer foy my kids for a decade (in recent years, combining this with a blogging and content creation business). As more time passes, I Increasingly see that dealing with my children has allowed me to develop skills in a way I never could have done while engrossed in the inflexible, corporate world.
I’ll give a few examples of transferable, so-called soft skills I have developed as a dad that are vital in the workplace:
Encouraging and nurturing talent
How do you encourage a youngster and help them achieve their absolute best? It could be helping a child to participate in a competition, do some kind of public speaking or complete homework to a fixed deadline. Experienced managers do this kind of thing all the time with their teams. It’s really not that different with children.
This follows on from above. Good leaders inspire confidence. As a parent, you should always be looking to build and develop your children’s confidence. The big difference is that it’s imperative for mums and dads to get it right or else it could have a life-long impact on their kids. Managers in the workplace have the luxury of being able to take a detached, short-term view.
Establishing good business relationships
You want good relationships with your child’s school, nursery, health professionals, other parents and so on. Is this any different to having good relationships with suppliers, staff, freelancers and anyone else that you might deal with in the workplace? I say it’s exactly the same.
Be it communicating on the class WhatsApp group without causing an argument or explaining to a teacher exactly why you are concerned about a child’s progress, communication is everything. In fact, the toughest audience to communicate with is often your own children. Good communication is vital to any business or workplace too.
Logistics and time keeping
These are very practical skills and I’m going to make a radical statement: If you’ve ever been the main carer for children and run a household, your ability to manage logistics and timekeeping will be far superior to anyone who works in an office!
Yes, okay, you may turn up everywhere with seconds to spare, yogurt smeared over your top, one shoe lace undone and reluctant kids trailing behind you, but you will get wherever you have to be on time. It’s easy getting yourself to an appointment on time, it’s much more difficult when you have to take little people.
Flexibility and adaptability
One moment you’re consoling an eight-year-old who has fallen off a piece of playground equipment, the next you’re educating an 11-year-old about good screen time habits and online safety. Oh, and you’ve also got your mind on who is eating what for dinner and keeping an eye on WhatsApp to see if the playdate you’ve suggested for next Wednesday can go ahead. You’ve got to deal with everchanging priorities as a parent and that means being flexible and adaptable.
Why are these “soft” skills?
Why do we think of these skills as “soft”? It strikes me that we under-value the skills parents rely on. Education and learning don’t simply happen in workplaces and schools.
A few years ago, an Italian woman called Riccarda Zezza became a mother and recognised this as an issue. She created a professional development training course known as Life Based Value that evaluated these skills and enabled people to earn a workplace qualification. It was a shrewd and clever move and Life Based Learning was adopted by some big employers. Alas, it hasn’t led to massive cultural change (there’s still time!).
As with all these things, the definition between hard skills are softs isn’t set in stone. Generally speaking, it seems to be accepted that hard skills are taught and quantifiable whereas soft skills are interpersonal and difficult to assess.
This, despite the fact that almost every corporate training provider has courses on time management, public speaking, nurturing talent, confidence building and so on. It’s almost like soft skills are a patronising pat on the head for any long-term caregiver, be they parents or otherwise:
“Yes, yes, we know you haven’t been on any formal training in years but I’m sure your soft skills are really good from all those years raising kids (or whatever your situation is).”
After the experiences of the past year, where home and work life have moulded into one in difficult circumstances, I hope we’ll see a change in approach and mentality and greater recognition these are not soft skills, but are hard skills learned through experience and that can be quantified, if only employers could be bothered.
What do you think about soft skills? Do you think it’s a valid phrase or is it outdated language? Do you think employers give enough credit to parents developing these skills in the home or do you think they are ignored and sneered at? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.