After my experiences a few weeks ago, and the ensuing discussion, I haven’t been able to get the topic of childcare and professional travel out of my head. So here’s a reckless proposal on the topic.
1) We need to recognize that to be successful, scientists, engineers, or academics need to engage in some amount of overnight travel to professional conferences, workshops, short courses, etc. Sure you might be able to go a year or two or even three without leaving your hometown, but at some point, in order to be successful at your current job or to advance professionally, you are going to need to go somewhere else overnight. I doubt that there are many tenured professors out there who have never gone out of town to go to a conference to present their work.
2) We also need to recognize that scientists, engineers, and academics are people. They have families: parents, siblings, children, significant others, or pets. Very rare are the people who manage to go their whole lives without any of the above. Furthermore, I’ll wager that many scientists, engineers, and academics actually care about their families and want to be part of their families’ lives. Heck, some scientists, engineers, and academics may even have to be the primary caregiver for a family member, be they an elderly parent, a disabled sibling, or a toddler. And, crazy as it may sound, some scientists, engineers, and academics, may not have supportive and flexible spouses/parents/siblings who can step in and take over those child/elder/nursing/pet responsibilities when the primary caregiver has to travel for work. (Reckless, I warned you!)
Below the jump, specific recommendations for employers, conference organizers, and the rest of us.
For organizations that employ scientists, engineers, or academics:
The employer should pay for the extra child/elder/pet care costs incurred as a result of travel that is a normal part of the professional responsibilities of the employees.
The employer should leave it to your employee how to best make arrangements for their situation, but the following three scenarios might cover most cases.
- Child/elder/sibling/spouse/pet stays home while employee travels, but additional costs are incurred (e.g., full-time rather than part-time daycare, evening babysitter, or pet sitter). The employer should reimburse the employee those expenses.(I haven’t done this yet, but I am planning to do go to conference sans toddler in December.)
- Child travels with the employee and partakes in on-site childcare. The employer should reimburse the employee those expenses. (Note: With the support of my chair, I tried to submit receipts for conference childcare last fall – they were rejected by the university administration.)
- Child travels with employee and is cared for by a relative or nanny who also travels with the employee and child. The employer should cover at least the costs of plane/train/bus tickets or gas for the caregiver. (Note: This was my situation at the last workshop. It worked fairly well, except the day that the caregiver got food poisoning.)
I’m guessing that, based on my experiences, the costs to the employer would be $500 or less per conference and that the benefit could be limited to two or three trips per year (or a fixed $ amount). Yet, the employer would end up with a significantly happier, less stressed, and more professionally productive scientist, engineer, or academic.
For conference/workshop/short course organizers:
- Set aside a room for breast-feeding and pumping. The room should be lockable, (keys could be checked out from registration for big groups), and hopefully have a sink and fridge.
- Advertise the lactation/pumping room on your conference brochure, website, etc.
- Make arrangements for on-site childcare. There are companies whose whole business is providing childcare for conferences. Or, at the very least, compile a list of local, licensed daycare providers who accept drop-in or “emergency” care. Your list should include higher quality care than a couple of undergraduates who might be interested, maybe…’cause they’re girls, you know. Make that list available on your conference website or by request.
- Consider whether a telecast of the conference/workshop/short course can be made to an adjacent room where children/talking are OK. (h/t A)
- Consider holding the conference/workshop on-line. (h/t DianaGainer)
- Don’t actively discourage women with children from attending your conference/workshop/short course. Duh! (good gosh, AMH, a mentoring workshop, even)
For the rest of us:
- Don’t be afraid to ask your employer or conference organizer if you need help making arrangements for (or covering the costs of) child/elder/sibling/spouse/pet care. Nothing will ever change unless employers and conference organizers know that we need them to change.
- Don’t assume that it’s only moms with small children who face these issues. How about involved dads, parents of school-age children, men and women with a parent who depends on them, etc?
- If you are an unencumbered conference participant, let the organizers know that you appreciate their efforts to accommodate those with family responsibilities.
- If you see someone at a conference juggling a toddler and a laptop, offer to help entertain the child while s/he finishes the talk or hold the laptop while s/he fills her coffee cup, etc. S/he may refuse your help, but the offer is still genuinely appreciated.
Anything I missed? What would you suggest?