by Kendra B. Stewart, College of Charleston:
One of my fondest recent conference experiences was sitting next to Paul Danczyk at an ASPA plenary session while his two young children played quietly on the floor in front of us. If you had told me 15 years ago when I was bringing my young children to public administration conferences that in the near future I would be sitting next to an ASPA Vice President as he modeled good parenting and partnering in a general session I would not have believed it. I was so pleased that Paul was sending a message that even though childcare was not an option at the conference, bringing your children still is an option.
There was a time when I first began conferencing (I choose not to say how long ago that was) when childcare was periodically offered at conferences. Particularly academic conferences. I never used this option because I was fortunate to have a partner who usually was able and willing to travel with me so our children could come and I could do the things I needed to do (like nurse and kiss my children goodnight) while working. This practice seems to have gone by the wayside and mostly, from what I can tell, it is because of underutilization. However, I am certain that organizations like ASPA would be willing to bring this back if they thought it would be used.
With record numbers of women in the workforce, there is no doubt that we need to rethink what we are doing in terms of allowing more work/life balance into our professional meetings – for both women AND men. Conferencing with your children can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be stressful if there is not good support. I recall one conference with my then 5-year-old son when I had to bring him to a panel I was on because there was no other option. He was fairly well behaved, coloring in his books on a chair, until I began my presentation. At that point he stood up and announced that I was his mother and began waving. No one in the room was amused, except for one of my co-panelists. I was mortified. We need to be sure that our working parents with young children have the opportunity to participate in and enjoy our conference experiences while still tending to their families if they choose to bring them.
So, I pose the question to you all – our next generation of scholars and practitioners – what can we do to offer you the support you need if you choose to bring your children to a conference? Is the traditional childcare model of interest? Or do you have another idea that could prove more successful? How do we send a message that we are family-friendly and that you don’t have to choose between tending to your career OR tending to your children? All ideas are welcome and I am listening!
About the author:
Kendra B. Stewart is Professor of Political Science and Public Administration and Director of the Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Center for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston. Her research interests include South Carolina government, non-profit management, state and local government, food policy, and women and politics. She is co-editor of a book entitled The Practice of Government Public Relations. The articles she has authored have appeared in various journals including Urban Affairs Review, Public Finance and Management, Perspective in Politics, Journal of Public Affairs Education, Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition as well as in various scholarly books.
Dr. Stewart is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), an independent, nonprofit, and non-partisan organization chartered by Congress to assist government leaders in building more effective, efficient, accountable, and transparent organizations. She was also elected to serve as President of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) for 2020-2021. Dr. Stewart has conducted political analysis for a variety of print, radio and television media, including Good Morning America, Fox News Channel, the Associated Press, The New Yorker, and National Public Radio.
Dr. Stewart received her undergraduate degree from the University of Central Florida and her Master of Public Administration and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of South Carolina. Prior to her current position, Dr. Stewart was a faculty member at Eastern Kentucky University and worked for the state of South Carolina Budget and Control Board. In addition, she has conducted program evaluations and strategic planning assistance to a variety of public and nonprofit organizations. Dr. Stewart is very involved in the community as well, serving on the boards of several professional and non-profit organizations.