Is Babysitting the New Sexual Harassment?

Sasha Brown-Worsham

If you ever babysat for your boss's children, then you are apparently not alone. This is especially true if you felt like it somehow affected your career, whether through bonus points or threat of job loss. 

An article in the New York Post last week says that savvy young women who want to get ahead in their jobs are being bullied into babysitting their boss's children, whether through implied threats or just the sense (among the younger women) that doing so will earn them some kind of extra credit.

Let's see: isn't sexual harassment basically a different kind of bullying? One in which women (or men) are made to think their jobs are on the line if they don't give in to their superior's requests for sexual favors. So how is this different?

When I was newly out of college, I sat for the CEO's dog. It went on for weeks at a time, included many late nights in the winter, medicine mixed into special treats four times a day, and no pay. The final part was the only part that kind of annoyed me given I was a 22-year-old recent college grad. But it was the kind of company where that kind of "favor" was normal.

I babysat for two different people in the company who were above me, though not directly, and I loved it. I loved their children and loved everything about it. In fact, 10 years later, I think of them a lot when I am with my own kids. At 22, surrounded by upwardly mobile urbanites my own age, there are not that many opportunities to be around children, so I took it where I could get it.

On the other hand, had the CEO had younger children, I could easily see how that could be intimidating. A decade later, with children of my own, I find it hard to imagine. My husband is now a director of a group of 15 and I can't imagine asking any of them to babysit for our children. It's just unprofessional. Maybe one day in a pinch we might ask, but here is the other thing: do you really want people watching your kids that don't want to be there?

Fine, finding a sitter is hard, but I would rather miss my dinner date than leave my children with someone who was forced to be there. Yes, she would probably do a good job (because she had to), but that resentment would still be there. No thanks. I'd rather stay home.

It's unprofessional. Unless the subordinate volunteers, then it's probably best to just cancel the plans, order a pizza, and call it a night.

Do you think that is a professional thing to do?


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