playgroundA few years ago, an amazing coach and mentor of mine, Susan Dunlap, told me she’d heard an expression she simply had to share with me: “The playground is the new golf course.”  As the founder of a program called the Women’s Leadership Forum, Susan and I are very much aligned in supporting the creation of “self-authored” careers that may not follow a predictable path.  We also both love a good metaphor.

We were talking that day about networking and about the fact that so many traditional, plug-and-play business development and connection opportunities simply aren’t conducive (or interesting) to professionals whose lives don’t fit the “standard” breadwinner-male-who-likes-the-golf course-and-is-available-around-the-clock model.  Caregivers often struggle with evening commitments.  Women have traditionally been excluded from after hours “drinking buddy” types of networking.  And golf is, well, golf.  A great game for some, but not something I have experience with.

I was recently presenting a webinar entitled “Managing Career Ambition as a Caregiver” for some of the Employee Belonging Councils (EBCs) at Workday.  And in the section of my presentation about community and connection, I shared this idea of the playground being the new golf course.  An astute participant then asked me the following question, which was something along the lines of:

“But the playground is where I go to check out from work commitments!  Are you saying that now a place I go for respite is where I’m supposed to be networking?”




What “The Playground is the New Golf Course” Means to Me

Here’s what I said in response to her excellent question:

No, my fellow working parent, I’m not suggesting that every moment you spend out in the world – even those moments with your children – be spent in furtherance of your career.  Please, please: if the playground is your place to check out mentally, do not deprive yourself of that outlet!  We absolutely need times and spaces where we are not wearing our professional hats.  We need to unplug.  Tune into our other identities.  And have alone time and “unicorn spaces” (here’s a link to access the recording of my conversation with Eve Rodsky on her book of the same name).

To me, “the playground is the new golf course” means that we can actively carve out family-friendly spaces and create parent-accommodating experiences for ourselves with the specific intention of building networks for career advancement and business development.  We don’t have to rely on being invited to a golf game.  Or attending an after-dinner drinks outing.  Parents who are in the same position as us and who have similar constraints are also people who have and share business.  They are our colleagues and clients.  People who also want to grow in their careers.  And they are probably having the same struggles we are in prioritizing connection.

What might spending time at such a family-friendly workplace “playground” look like?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Attending brown bag lunches or other events held by the working parent or caregiver group at your organization. (Or starting one, if it doesn’t already exist.)  When I worked as a Partner at a global law firm, I gained new client matters specifically because of the people I connected with through the parent group I founded.  Just don’t be afraid to talk about work at your gatherings, in addition to commiserating about your kiddos.
  • Planning an event with colleagues and/or clients that involves your children. Yes, there’s always “take your child to work day,” but what about an event at a local zoo?  Or a craft-related or cooking-related event that welcomes families?
  • Developing an event – whether virtual or in person – just for prospective and current clients, on a topic relevant to working parenthood. You might bring in a speaker on time management, or work-life integration, or even the division of household labor.  (Yep, this is something I can help you create, if you are looking for speakers or support.  Here’s my speaking page.)  By planning and attending this type of event, you’ll get to spend time on business development, growing authentic relationships that acknowledge your respective families and your full humanity.  And you’ll get to pick a time that works well for people with family commitments.

As a final note, I also feel compelled to share another important lesson I learned from Susan Dunlap: that women tend to underutilize friendship networks for professional purposes.  As executive coach Dale Kurow says in this Forbes article entitled How Women Can Use Friendships to Boost Their Careers, “I find that women tend to be hesitant or embarrassed to ask their friends for help to further their careers.”  Pamela Ryckman is also quoted in the article as saying, “Women who have built true friendships with their peers are finally able to do what men have done since time immemorial: Merge business and friendship and capitalize on connections.”

I get it.  We don’t want to risk or threaten our close friendships by making them about business.  Which, I agree, is important.  But what if we offered ourselves some new narratives.  For example, that sharing the professional side of our lives might just enrich our friendships and help them to expand and grow deeper.  Or that “friendship” or “business” need not be a binary choice.  Or, finally, that asking for help is courageous and trust-building.

Okay, so go forth to that playground and nurture your relationships.  (And if you’re looking for more awesome advice and strategies for growing an authentic network, check out my husband Jason Levin’s excellent book, Relationships to Infinity: The Art and Science of Keeping in Touch.)  Now go play!


Back to Work After Baby

Want more practical tips on working parenthood?  Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave

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