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Executive: Parents should not apologize for having a work-life balance

"I never need to know why you can't travel on a Sunday."
/ Source: TODAY

Ian Sohn is the president of Wunderman Chicago, a branch of the global digital agency based in New York City. But as he wrote in a post on LinkedIn recently, he is also a single dad who won't travel for work on the days he has his children.

And neither, he says, should anyone else.

"I never need to know you'll be back online after dinner," Sohn began. "I never need to know why you chose to watch season one of 'Arrested Development' (for the fourth time) on your flight to L.A. instead of answering emails.

"I never need to know you’ll be in late because of a dentist appointment. Or that you’re leaving early for your kid’s soccer game. I never need to know why you can’t travel on a Sunday."

Sohn wrote that he "deeply resents" how the workplace treats employees who are parents. "How we feel we have to apologize for having lives. That we don’t trust adults to make the right decisions. How constant connectivity and availability (or even the perception of it) has become a valued skill."

After traveling a lot lately, Sohn — who has amicably co-parented two boys ages 8 and 12 with their mother for about seven years — told TODAY Parents he wrote the post "almost as a reminder to myself to take care of myself in all the craziness."

Apparently, he was not the only one who needed to hear that reminder: The post has been "liked" on LinkedIn over 16,000 times already and has over 600 comments.

In the early days of juggling single fatherhood and his career, Sohn told TODAY Parents he experienced a lot of anxiety about how to balance it all. He said he has learned over the years that "I don't need to apologize for being a parent."

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"The days I have the boys, I have to leave work by a certain time," he said. "The days I have the boys, I can't be in another city."

MaryBeth Ferrante, a career coach with women and family-centered healthcare company Maven, told TODAY Parents that Sohn's message is one that American workers need to hear.

Ferrante counsels women as they tackle work-life balance (and, often imbalance); she also helps advise organizations on how to support women and parents in their workplaces.

"The expectation today is that you are available whenever someone needs you, and as a young employee that was what I prided myself on," Ferrante told TODAY Parents. "That really needs to change holistically, not just for parents. We all need space to be human and to have our personal lives. It's OK if you aren't checking email every night and if you aren't working all day, every day."

Ian Sohn, president of Wunderman Chicago and dad to two boys, told his LinkedIn followers that he "never wants anyone to feel horrible for being a human being."
Ian Sohn, president of Wunderman Chicago and dad to two boys, told his LinkedIn followers that he "never wants anyone to feel horrible for being a human being."Ian Sohn

There is still a "huge" stigma in the workplace for both men and women who are juggling parenting and career, Ferrante said, though men benefit from the perception that "being a great dad" by leaving early to coach a soccer team, for instance, in a way that women do not.

Still, Ferrante said, these men are often the first ones in their organization to have had access to a leave policy, the first ones not to have a stay-at-home partner at home. "They are navigating the intersection of work and parenting very differently than the men who came before them did."

The change should be for every employee, she added. "This is not just about parents, but about how we respect and value everyone. Flexibility in the workplace needs to be utilized universally and not just for segments — not only for working parents, and not just for the first year of a child's life, because that's where the bias creeps in."

If companies and organizations have leaders who model that flexibility, talk about their lives outside of work openly, and encourage it for everyone the way Sohn did in his post, Ferrante said, "Then you have that opportunity to allow people to bring their authentic selves to work."

Sohn ended his post by assuring his employees, "I never want you to feel horrible for being a human being." He told TODAY Parents that the hundreds of notes he has received since he wrote have left him feeling grateful.

"I appreciate people being brave enough to share their own story with a stranger," he said. "It's a beautiful thing."