Daisy Dowling and Melinda Merino aim to help working parents—not, they emphasize, just working mothers—with a trio of titles that Harvard Business Review Press is publishing in December: Getting It All Done, Managing Your Career, and Taking Care of Yourself. Dowling, HBR Working Parents series editor and author of Workparent (HBR, June 2021), and Merino, editorial director and associate publisher at HBR, spoke with PW about why these books fill an urgent need.
What was the impetus for the Working Parents series?
Merino: Although we’re launching this new series in the middle of the pandemic, it was conceived long before it started, back in 2019. The needs of working parents have been showing up more and more in our research and in customer surveys, and when millennials started reaching the age where they were advancing in their own careers while starting families, we really saw this need pop. We even saw interest from people who are not yet parents: “I’m thinking of starting this job but want to start a family; what will the issues be?”
How has the pandemic affected the way you view these concerns?
Dowling: The pandemic has thrown those challenges into stark relief. We’re no longer in the position where I sneak off to the pediatrician during the workday, scurry back, and hope nobody noticed. We now have to be much more open about that.
Merino: The pandemic has laid bare so much that was hidden for so long, the racism and gross inequality, that everything we’d ever published on flexible work before March is already obsolete. We’ve always viewed work as separate from life, and you had to keep them in balance; that idea is now totally outdated. We’re seeing right into people’s homes, and the challenges they’re facing. As a manager, I see with my own two eyes on the video meetings that childcare and work are completely incompatible.
Who do you see as the readership for these books?
Dowling: Historically, the conversation around working parents, although powerful and important, ended up living within the “women’s network” of an organization. We’ve planned this series to address the needs of parents of older kids, adoptive parents, LGTBQ parents, and workers who aren’t in offices; we’ve added frontline health-care workers, police officers, etc.
Merino: We’re thinking beyond the traditional HBR audience—managers who are trying to succeed and advance in their organizations—and figuring out how to reach anyone and everyone who works. Working-parent problems span demographics and job titles. At the same time, there are a lot of silver linings as far as how working dads are changing their whole approach to parenting. We’re starting to get a lot more male CEOs talking about how to drive change in your organization for fathers, too.
What's the takeaway for working parents?
Dowling: We’re in a recasting. The skills and tools are going to be much different. We want to give working people agency. How do you have a constructive conversation about having kids and work? How do you manage your time in a different way?
Merino: The message here is optimism. We want to show people: you can do this.