The Arnold family. (Courtesy of Eric Arnold)

Earlier this summer, Eric Arnold, chief executive of Planswell, a start-up in Toronto, did what he occasionally does on LinkedIn. He wrote about a mistake he made as a manager and what he learned from it.

This time, he highlighted the importance of flexibility for his workers, particularly those with children.

He wrote:

“You can’t ask if a candidate has kids.

I forgot that during an interview …

They paused, gave a weird look and said ‘no.’

I forget people discriminate against parents.

Our team has 15 kids, 4 of them are mine.

We might show up after 9 a.m. drop off. We often leave at 5 for dinner. We might run if school calls …

But we do amazing work in between.

We don’t succeed despite our families … We succeed because of them."

His post went viral. (H/T Working Mother Magazine.)

Over the past year, Arnold has been sharing stories, hoping to show others that mistakes happen, and we need to take things from them. “It just feels good to be helping people,” he says. “And this story … just stuck in my mind.”

The backstory is that he and a job candidate were hitting it off. “He was my age and I asked if he had any kids, because I was excited to tell him about my kids,” says Arnold, who has four children, ages 5 and younger. “As soon as it came out of my mouth, I knew I wasn’t supposed to say that.” And the job candidate knew it, too. He gave Arnold a funny look, said no, and they went on with the interview.

“He didn’t come to work for us, but after the whole process, he circled back and said ‘My wife’s pregnant, and I didn’t feel comfortable telling you that.’”

For Arnold, it highlighted the fact that many people fear being discriminated against for having kids. They worry that it will be assumed they can’t focus on work because they have another focus, one that may include midday calls from a school nurse, sitters that quit or parent-teacher conferences. But what Arnold wanted to get across in his post, he says, was “All I care about is that people do good work and bring a lot to the table.” And that’s true whether they are single and want to get home for their own reasons or are parents, he says.

Obviously, this wasn’t so easily attainable in the not-so-distant past, when teleworking, laptops, smartphones and conferencing software weren’t available. But now it’s much easier to get the work done, even if there’s a 3 p.m. pediatrician appointment, if a workplace is flexible enough. But changing the mind-set of many business leaders? Not so easy.

And perhaps adding to an already large divide: Those working in fields that require face time, desk time and specific shifts can’t hop in and out of the office as easily, Arnold acknowledges. “Everything I’m saying applies to creative-type jobs,” he says. “But when you’re in a creative role, maybe you can do it in 10 minutes and if you create enough value, then it doesn’t matter if you punch the clock.”

Arnold says he knows remaining flexible is key as workplace demographics are changing and younger workers are coming in who often expect a different kind of environment than what was available in the past. And as co-founder of a start-up, he knew they had to create a smart workplace environment. Since launching in 2016, the company, which creates financial plans for people over the Internet, has grown to 56 employees — many with children. “You really don’t have a choice. You really have to create an environment they want to work in,” he says. “Good talent is hard to come by. You want to create the best atmosphere and be accommodating to people’s lives.”

The post resulted not only in “thousands of private messages,” Arnold says, but also a major uptick in job applications.

“I think if it’s reaching people who feel like they’re in a place where they can’t be who they are, if they have kids, family, and they feel like they’re being discriminated against, if it encourages them to go to work for another company … great,” he says. “If it encourages CEOs to take a different perspective … I hope for the best.”

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