Job and family: About having a child and a career

Career at thyssenkrupp | Corporate culture | People at thyssenkrupp | Working 100 percent and also caring for your children – in everyday life, reconciling job and family demands full commitment from parents - more than ever before in the times of Corona. How can working mothers and fathers do justice to both sides in today's work environment? We're looking back – and forward.

When she is not working remotely due to the corona pandemic, Kathrin Dennler can look at a project particularly close to her heart from her office: thyssenkrupp’s very own kindergarden “Miniapolis“. Normally, around 100 children play in the garden of the daycare center when the weather is fine, while 80 percent of their parents work right next door at the thyssenkrupp headquarters. The other spots are reserved for children from surrounding districts. Kathrin Dennler developed the concept to combine job and family and successfully implemented it in 2012. The education-oriented approach and the modern curriculum make her proud.

A full-time job after pregnancy? Not so easy 18 years ago

When Kathrin Dennler expected her first child, there was no kindergarten on the thyssenkrupp site nor a concept for part-time work – instead of parental benefits, families received child allowance, general support for the parent who reduced his or her working hours in favor of the children. That was eighteen years ago.

At that time, Kathrin Dennler was one of few woman at thyssenkrupp to return to work full-time after pregnancy. She had to be the encouraging example for others, that would have been helfull for herself. “I simply lacked role models. There was no woman who could have told me: ‘Don’t worry, it’s exhausting, but possible’.”

Child and Career: “It was difficult back then”

Instead, Kathrin Dennler, young mother and back at work, was also met with skepticism. “Let’s see if that works – That’s what I heard. It was also a great pressure to want to prove that it works.” A big help at that time were her direct colleagues and her superior. For three months, a colleague took over her department as a substitute, then Kathrin Dennler came back.

Kathrin Dennler (red blazer) knows exactly: To reconcile job and family, nothing goes over team play. Without her colleagues, her superiors and thyssenkrupp’s flexible working models, she would not have been able to return to the company the way she did. Or fullfill her current leadership position in human resources.

Today, she has taught all critical voices. Kathrin Dennler raised two children, now 19 and 15 years old. And she successfully combined job and family: She is Head of Human Relation Management at thyssenkrupp since early 2020.

Part-time models, company daycare, job sharing: Today, the employer actively supports parents

How did she reconcile her job and her family? Her support came from her private environment. “My partner, like me, played a large part in caring and educating.” In the office, Kathrin Dennler often had to use a try-and-error approach. Every year anew.

Today, many employers actively support mothers and fathers. Like Kathrin Dennler, Daniela Defort also plans her time carefully to ensure enough time to spend with her children, but today the company supports the compatibility of family and career with part-time models and flexible solutions. Currently – in times of the Corona pandemic – more than ever. The crisis presents employers and working parents with unprecedented challenges.

2020: More support for mothers and fathers

But the “new normality” is not strange to everyone. Daniela Defort already has experience with individual home office regulations and working time arrangements. She joined thyssenkrupp around eight years ago as a team assistant in the data security department. After a stint in Diversity & Inclusion she is now working in the group’ s HR controlling department. Then in 2014 another full-time job: Her first daughter was born. At that time many working parents were among her colleagues.

Unlike Kathrin Dennler, Daniela Defort, as a new mom, could rely on her employer’s flexible working models: “I was always told that at the end of the day it’s the result that counts – and not whether I did it in 2.3 or 5 hours, on campus in the office or from home”. For Daniela Defort, this trust in each other and open, honest communication is an absolute prerequisite for a tolerant way of working, not only in times of a global pandemic.

Six years later, after the birth of her second daughter and returning to work after parental leave, Daniela Defort still appreciates the high degree of flexibility in organizing her work that thyssenkrupp. After both her pregnancies she returned to the company part-time – initially 10, then 15 hours a week. Today Defort works 20 hours and four days a week – from her home desk if necessary. “I have Friday off to organize things for the weekend, such as grocery shopping. With the current time policy, we’re doing pretty well, since the slightest glitch won’t cause the whole system to fail immediately.”

Job and family: part-time models meet the needs of many parents

These flexible options take the pressure off working parents in particular, says Defort: “With children, you are limited in your options by the hours of daycare and school. In addition to sports, music school, visits to grandparents and doctor’s appointments, time is quickly a scarce commodity in everyday family life. “If I can save myself the commute to work, that gives me one hour more time a day – a jackpot! Likewise, if I can do some of my work in the evening.”

It is important to the mother of two to have enough time for her daughters and family life in addition to her job. “Flexible working means that I can spend the afternoon with my children and have enough room for activities without being rushed all the time. Through part-time work, working remotely and flexible working hours, I am relieved in such a way that I can be a – mostly – relaxed mum”.

Open, honest communication of the own situation and needs, both towards the employer and towards the own partner is what Daniela Defort pleads for. Together with thyssenkrupp, the mother of two has adjusted her working hours so that job and family do not get in their way.

The framework must be clearly defined – for both sides

If you ask Kathrin Dennler and Daniela Defort about their tips for other parents, the answer is very similar despite all the differences between the two women and regardless of the current corona pandemic. ” Already when a child is on the way – preferably before – couples should exchange ideas on how to divide up care and how they can imagine working and living together in the future,” says Daniela Defort. “Each parent should be clear about their own wishes and options.”

Who stays at home? When should the child be put in external care? Who in the family can provide support? A plan B – the two women agree on this – should always be on hand for working parents, even in a flexible working environment.

Kathrin Dennler also believes that open communication is essential – both at home and at work: “The general conditions must be clearly formulated. If the child gets chickenpox or the daycare center closes, a working parent must stay at home in case of doubt. This should be discussed with the boss in advance.” Preparation and organization are everything in such situations – and parents must be clear about what to expect. “With the stress at work and the children at home, it can quickly become a 200 percent workload. It helps to discuss beforehand who can step in, in case of an emergency.”

But Daniela Defort also believes that this model should be reviewed regularly. Does it still fit? Are stress limits exceeded? Do both parents feel comfortable in their roles? “Often only small changes are needed and everything runs smoothly again! To be open and honest, to listen, to take it seriously – I find that very important in a family.”

Flexibility in case of crisis: Corona demands a lot from working parents

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus at the beginning of 2020, flexible working methods have become even more important for Daniela Defort, Kathrin Dennler and many other parents in Germany. Due to the closure of kindergartens and schools, the balancing act between job and family currently demands even more from many mothers and fathers. With Corona, nothing can be planned.

“At present, the majority of working mothers and fathers not only have to organize who takes care of the children and when, but also organize which work tasks have priority from both parents and when,” Dennler describes the current challenges. Especially families with younger children who are not yet independent and single parents are particularly affected by the crisis. “Small children simply don’t understand why mum and/or dad are not accessible even though they are at home”, explains Dennler. This is another reason why employers currently have to offer flexible solutions for parents.

According to a survey of 7700 working people by the Hans-Böckler-Foundation, mothers, in particular, suffer from the current situation. The results of the survey show: If parents have to step in during times of closed daycare centers and schools, mothers bear the main burden. According to the Hans Böckler Foundation, in households with at least one child under 14 years of age, 27 percent of women, but only 16 percent of men, have reduced their working hours in order to provide childcare during the crisis.

The decision as to which parent stays at home, according to the Hans Böckler Foundation, is based on financial considerations – often families simply cannot do without the man’s higher salary, the researchers say. Scarce daycare places and a lack of childcare facilities already added to the disadvantage of mothers prior to the Corona crisis.

Reconciling job and family: some areas need to be improved

Daniela Defort too believes that politics continues to do too little in this area. Her older daughter will start school in August. Despite the fact that both parents are working, there is no place for the girl in the full-time care center. Defort will then have to make all the more use of her flexible working time arrangements at thyssenkrupp. “With good luck, my daughter will be allowed to attend morning care until 1 p.m. But for many parents who are in the same unfortunate situation, this means that one parent has to reduce their working hours – usually the mother.”

Kathrin Dennler also believes that improvements in childcare are urgently needed so that parents can reconcile childcare and career. “The supply of daycare facilities for children is completely inadequate. This is something that urgently needs to be worked on in Germany,” says Dennler. “But when we look at where we stood at the time my first daughter was born and where we are today – then I am very optimistic that we will make rapid progress in this area.

A parent-friendly environment is part of corporate culture today

If you compare the experiences of Irina Link and Kathrin Dennler, there is only one conclusion: a lot has changed. “In addition to all possibilities such as part-time work, job sharing, the nursing hotline or the parent-child office, the general attitude towards parents has changed. Supporting parents has become part of our corporate culture,” says Kathrin Dennler. Her colleague has made the same experience. ” We almost have a baby boom nowadays.”

The Corona pandemic has now put these services to the test. It remains to be seen how the compatibility of family and work develops in the “new normality” after the crisis.


Terry Quinn

Terrific read – THX! Terry Quinn

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