How Inclusive Are We At Workplace With Single & Child-Free Employees?

We’re starting to see more of measures being implemented to support parents across the board. But how are single and child-free people being included and valued in their workplace?

Roopa Badrinath
New Update
Single Women, Source: Women's Health Australia

‘Oh, come on! I am sure you can work on this Saturday! In any case, you are footloose and fancy-free. You don’t have to worry about kids, homework, hobby classes, creches, and in-laws!’ ‘Why can’t you stay late at work today? In any case, you have no responsibilities!’ Have you heard this at your workplace? Has this dart been thrown at you as a single or child-free individual at the workplace? If your answer is yes, you are not alone, as a significant percentage of single and childfree individuals have wrestled with this assumption that people make about them. That they do not have a life outside of work if they are not married or are childfree.


There are multiple reports which speak about the penalty that unmarried and childless individuals face at the workplace. They face discrimination based on their identity; they navigate around perceptions and stereotypes around singlehood and not being parents; assumptions being made about the need for a work-life balance; unconscious biases around societal norms and expectations regarding marriage and parenthood; and in some acute cases, there can be insinuations about their commitment (which can have an impact on their career growth) especially if the popular narrative is around stability and dependability which purportedly comes only through parenthood and family responsibilities.

We need to examine our biases and assumptions about individuals who have decided to stay single or child-free for various reasons. Why do we assume that their need for a fuller and meaningful life is any less than the needs of a parent? Inclusion of parents cannot be at the cost of excluding non-parent identity groups which can cause friction at the workplace. 

With decreased fertility rates and couples opting out of parenthood by choice in addition to marriage no longer a validation of one’s social identity, our workplaces will see more and more individuals who are choicefully single and childless. World Economic Forum’s report states that by 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials (people who are between 28 years to 43 years of age now). Companies will need to find ways to support their life choices while at the same time creating welcoming spaces for all successive generations by honouring the needs of these demographics.

What are some simple ways in which we can ensure that we do not create inadvertent exclusionary practices at the workplace with respect to single and childfree employees?

Interrupt your assumptions

The first step is to interrupt your assumptions. Train managers and employees to avoid making assumptions about individuals based on their marital or parental status. Let us not assume that only parents struggle and others have an easy life. Emphasize the importance of treating everyone with fairness and respect, regardless of their personal circumstances.


Remind yourself that people have responsibilities – irrespective of their status – they could be caregivers for their elderly parents or siblings or nephews/nieces or be in a committed relationship that needs nurturing like any other relationships.  They could even be pet parents!

Tell yourself that they have hobbies and passions too – like all others. Interests like trekking, travelling, swimming, running, painting, etc that they pursue outside of work which makes them a whole person.  And they have the right to take time off to pursue their interests like everybody else without any judgement.  

Stop expecting them to pick up the slack - to be always ready to pick up the slack on behalf of others. Requests to stay back late in the evening to back up for somebody else can become tiring when it becomes a norm instead of an exception. Single and childfree employees can step in like all other supportive colleagues once in a while to bail out their co-workers. But expecting them to cheerfully always step up and step in is unreasonable and unfair. 

 Women face additional barriers – ensure that women are not penalised for their intersectional identities. Being single or childfree can be a double whammy for women due to deep-rooted gender biases, gender stereotyping, and societal norms.  In any case, women are scrutinized much more than men routinely, and in situations like marital and parental status, the expectations and assumptions become even more acute.  

Audit policies for fairness – check the HR policies to see if single and childfree employees are being disadvantaged due to their marital or parental status. How can they take time off to care for somebody who is of significance to them but may not be endorsed legally? How can we ensure that they are not discriminated against if they must take care of their ailing parents or siblings? While it is acceptable for an organization to acknowledge the caregiving needs of employees as parents, how do we accommodate such scenarios where the caregiving boundary may have to be pushed further?

Contemporize policies – once the policies have been audited for fairness, make changes to reflect the current reality. Alternative family structures will become more common, and companies need to take proactive measures to reflect the changed reality.  For example, if a single employee is being transferred to another office location, does your policy still define a family as a spouse and children or is it expansive enough to accommodate parents, siblings or partners? Include the movement of pets too expanding the definition of parenthood to include pet parents as well. 

Workplace dissatisfaction and misunderstandings can be reduced significantly through policies where organizations raise awareness of this sub-conscious boundary between the two contrasting groups. A workplace where each group is sensitive to – and respects the needs of – the other creates harmonious working relationships free of resentment where everyone feels heard, valued, and appreciated.

Authored by Roopa Badrinath, Founder & Principal Consultant of Turmeric Consulting. Views expressed by the author are their own

Single Women Workplace inclusion