If anyone has jumped on a Zoom with me, they will see the vast amount of kid artwork that I have in my background. I want to show that I am proud to be a parent. It’s like my very own badge of honor, but it took some soul-searching and a lot of support to get me to where I am today. Out of the 6 Startups I have been a part of I was the first woman to have a baby at 3 of them which put me in a challenging position. As someone working on the HR team while also being the person who is pregnant or nursing asking for accommodations, I helped to craft the leave policy and set the standard for future working parents at the company. This was both a blessing and a curse; on one hand, I had a lot of impact on what went into the policy, but on the other, I felt a lot of pressure (self-induced) to create something that would work well for those that came after me.
For my first baby at Fiksu, I got to help design the nursing lounge and equipped it with a sink and a fridge for milk storage. It even came with a super plush lounge chair – this was by far the most luxurious setup. When I was nursing my 6-month-old and joined Logentries, I knew budgets were tight and we would have to get creative. So when I joined I asked if we would frost the glass of a conference room, and I stored my milk in a shared refrigerator next to the Bud Light. Not the ideal situation but we made it work. When I got to Privy I was nursing baby number 2 and we were building out our new space so I knew that was a good time to ask if we could convert one of the phone booths to a part-time nursing area. It had a frosted door that locked, my very own mini fridge for milk storage, and a pretty comfy chair where I could pump and work. Accommodations are not always as easy as I had it; I had heard horror stories from working moms that the only private place with a sink and working electricity was out in the open in the women’s bathroom. All of these times I needed to advocate for myself and for what I needed. They were all newer companies that would support the needs of working parents (and nursing mothers) but needed to hear from me exactly what I needed to thrive.
Even with the openness and support I received, I struggled to find a balance between who I was at work as an employee and who I was at home as a parent. I wasn’t alone in this journey. In fact, 66% of parents say that they struggle to find their place, experience burnout, and have contemplated quitting their jobs for many reasons. We hear a ton about supporting new parents but as kids grow their needs change, and thus the needs of working parents evolve so companies need to understand how to support those changes. When my girls were little, it was easy to leave them at daycare from 9 am -6 pm. But as they got older and wanted to play and spend time with me, I found that I was picking them up earlier and earlier. One joy, in particular, is being “Mommy Mountain”. This is a reward that Bree, my 5-year-old, gets when she puts on her pants and socks in the morning. After she has successfully done so, she will climb on me and call me “Mommy Mountain”. This whole process adds about 20 minutes to our morning routine but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I reflect on the years back and wonder how I didn’t do this with my first. I now linger in the mornings to help put on socks and relish being Mommy Mountain instead of rushing out the door to catch the train into the city. It’s not that I don’t love my job or what I do anymore, I still love being in Startups and the fast pace of the workday. I just take a few moments before the chaos of work to indulge in the chaos of my life as a mom.
Company policies and programs are key drivers for inclusion
I know that I would not be able to have these moments if the companies I worked for didn’t have policies and programs in place to help support me as a working parent. Some of the biggest changes I have benefited from have been from companies who have built out flexible working policies, expanded paid family leave, added additional childcare benefits, and built out programs like an ERG for parents to foster an inclusive and supportive culture.
- Flexible working – According to a KinderCare study, 69% of working parents feel they can now be more involved in their children’s lives because they have a more flexible work schedule. To help improve their employees’ quality of life, companies can create policies to build flexible working schedules and shift the focus from hours worked to the impact and output someone contributes.
- Childcare benefits – in that same KinderCare study 65% said that there is a disconnect between employers and childcare support. Companies can offer many options when it comes to childcare benefits. Adobe offers many childcare resources like jumping the queue for a waitlist for Bright Horizon daycare facilities, backup childcare, and academic support discounts. Smaller startups might not be able to negotiate partnerships with Care.com or Bright Horizons but they can offer Dependent Care FSAs that let parents pay for daycare pre-tax, provide childcare stipends to be used for anything related to childcare (even house cleaning and laundry), and partner with services like Parentaly.
- Parental Leave – The US does have protected leave of 12 weeks unpaid through the 1993 FMLA but this doesn’t cover every parent and also not every parent can go without a paycheck for 12 weeks. Companies, especially those in tech, have been increasing their paid leave policies to support and retain working parents. DocuSign offers 6 months of paid leave, Google offers 18 to 24, and Netflix offers 4 to 8 months of leave in addition to their family-forming benefits to help parents with fertility, surrogacy, and adoption.
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for working parents – In addition to the parental leave, DocuSign offers an ERG for parents where they can find peer support, have a safe space to share learnings, and provide a sense of belonging based on their shared experiences.
As a working parent, you have to take on an active role when it comes to supporting your own work-life balance. Here’s what I did:
- Set clear boundaries – People talk about this all the time and it comes up as one of the number one things that you can do to help you with your work-life balance. For me, this is saying no to 8 pm calls (that’s bedtime for the girls) and delegating tasks to other members of the team instead of taking them on just because I can do them quicker. This actually helps in two ways: It gives members of the team experience and mentorship and helps me to hyper-focus on the high-impact areas.
- Prioritize my self-care – Taking time for myself is not always easy. I have to grab ahold of the things that bring me joy (like Mommy Mountain) and prioritize giving myself that time for self-care. I will also try to get in some exercise, like going for a walk, and carve out some veg time during each day.
- Batch my work projects – I have learned that context-switching from one task to another doesn’t work for me, so I will now group all of my work into similar tasks. This is especially true when I am recruiting: I will try to do all of my phone screens back to back so that I am “in the zone” and can fully concentrate on that task instead of peppering them throughout my day.
- Have open and transparent talks with my manager and my team – When I was first coming back to work, I felt a bit like I was Superman: When I was at work I was Work Jen, and when I was at home I was Mom. If I needed to leave early I was a bit shy to say it was for a sick kid; I didn’t want to be labeled as “that mom”. As I got more comfortable in my new role as a parent and became more open with my manager and my team, the level of transparency went up and so did the level of support and trust from my team.
This is a journey and everyone’s path and needs are different
Whether you are a company wanting to support working parents or a working parent trying to navigate between being a parent and an employee, know that everyone will have a different need and it is more about finding the right approach, resources, and support based on each individual’s circumstances. Companies can listen to what their employees need and provide flexible options and employees can take a proactive approach when managing their time, competing priorities, and mental health. This will lead to a supportive framework that helps working parents thrive.
Learn more about our Author:
With a master’s degree in Opera, Jen Paxton didn’t think she would have a career in Talent Acquisition or PeopleOps, however, she fell in love with helping candidates find the right role. She started her career at JobSpring Partners placing technical professionals then moved on to Robert Half before deciding to move to an in-house recruiting team. She has grown teams at later-stage startups like Fiksu and LevelUp and built Recruiting and PeopleOps strategies from scratch at small startups like Logentries, TrueMotion, Privy, and Smile. She took a slight detour from her usual Head of People roles to Co-Found a video content platform called Jamyr which was recently acquired by Recruitics. She has been a part of four successful acquisitions and almost all of her companies have won “Best Place to Work” awards at least once while she was there. She loves coaching managers, fostering a feedback culture, and building programs that will help develop a sense of belonging. In addition to her career, Jen is a mom of two girls, loves being outdoors, eating tacos, and drinking her weight in loose-leaf teas.
*Disclaimer: This post was not generated by A.I. It is indeed written by a real life human. A pretty cool human in fact.