I started out my career in tech as a software engineer. I was the only female to graduate in my class. I’ve experienced first hand what it’s like to become a mother in a male dominated work place.
I’m also a driven woman. I love what I do, and yet when I had kids my career took a backseat - even though that’s not what I wanted.
My son Harvey was born two months early. The week he was born a new leadership position was announced in my part of the organisation. I didn’t apply. I also missed out on a salary increase. Share options for employees were introduced a short while later. I wasn’t allocated any. I wasn’t invited to company events, and nobody from work kept in touch or checked in on me.
It didn’t just feel like I was on leave, it felt like I didn’t exist (as an employee) anymore.
And, of course, I was stressed out - because becoming a parent for the first time is hard. And even harder when your child’s first year or two is fraught with health issues and there’s nothing you can do about it - except be there.
Going back to work was harder than I could ever have imagined. At 11 months old we sent Harvey to daycare. He was sick for 186 days of my first year back at work. I know this because I kept track on a large calendar on our kitchen wall.
I worked part time hours and there was even a time when my husband, Ivan, did the same for two months. That way we could keep Harvey home between us and allow his immune system to recover from the constant onslaught of illness.
My husbands’ reputation and development was also negatively impacted due to his shorter working hours and frequent sick days.
It was a challenging time for both of us.
At two years old Harvey turned a corner and things got a lot easier. Enjoyable even. I felt like I was really punching at work too. Despite our challenges with Harvey I’d shifted from engineering into product and even held a leadership position. I was still the same driven woman I was before. Except possibly even more driven, with added empathy.
Then we decided to have another child. I remember telling my boss I was pregnant around the same time we were discussing another new role that I was best positioned to take on.
It was amazing how quickly that discussion unraveled due to “unfortunate timing”. And yet, I sort of expected it to happen that way. To say I was not happy would be an understatement. I was absolutely pissed.
I decided it was better to resign and focus on staying calm. I did not want to increase the risk of having another premature baby.
I then co-founded my own tech startup, in part as an experiment, but also because I could design and code the front end myself. Working virtually alongside my co-founder and friend while pregnant was wonderful. In fact, I went into labour while merrily coding away at my desk at home. My daughter Kelsey was born perfectly healthy - and on time.
And, guess what? My husband and I got to have an easy ride the second time around. Kelsey is bullet proof, she never gets sick. And, she’s the happiest kid we know. I often joke that she balances the rest of us out.
Harvey’s just started Year 1 - he’s now a well and healthy boy. He’s even taller than most, sharp as a whip, and utterly fascinated by the lego game on his Nintendo Switch.
Kelsey is confident and equally sharp. And, she’s the quintessential slightly annoying younger sibling.
I started working again just under two years ago. I am super proud to be Head (or Heart) of Product and part of the leadership team at Joyous.
As a software tech company, our purpose is to make life better for people at work. Doesn’t take much to figure out why that purpose appeals to me.
We are an open employee feedback product built for large agile organisations. We want to make life better for working people at a global scale. How? By stimulating open conversations between people and their leaders around important, focused topics.
Anyway, late last year I kept coming back to something. If we are striving to help others make life better for people at work, then for us that work really needs to start with our own. Lisa Cunningham, our Head of Engineering, had just gone on parental leave. It seemed like the perfect time to do something.
So, I set out on a mission to create an exceptional benefit for parents. I declared my intention to our leadership team. Not just an exceptional benefit for our parents. One that we could open source and encourage others to adopt for their future parents too. So we put our heads together and this is what we came up with.
The Joyous parental journey benefit.
A benefit created by parents for parents. Comprising of six main elements this benefit costs around 12 weeks pay for new parents.
Six weeks of paid parental leave
Parents can use this flexibly, in whatever way suits their family.
Parents are empowered to decide how they would like to stay in touch during extended leave. If they prefer not to hear from us during this time, that’s perfectly okay.
Reduced hours for six months, on full pay
Parents can return to work for 30 hours a week, in a flexible way that suits their family.
If a parent realises they’ve come back a bit too soon, they can go back on leave and return later.
Unlimited special leave for six months
Parents won’t have to use their own sick or annual leave to take care of a sick child, and they will still get paid. This leave is available for their first six months after returning to work, or for six months after their new child arrives - whatever works best for the parent.
Additional special leave for all parents
We know that some children get sick - a lot - and we don't want our parents to use their own sick leave up on their kids. So, for each child 13 years old or younger, parents will receive an additional five days of special leave per year to use when their child is sick. This leave does not accrue from year to year.
We offer the same benefit to all parents.
And we mean all of them. Even the non-traditional kinds. Mum, Dad, Other Mum, Other Dad. Biological, Adopted. All of them.
Support from the business.
We have identified four key stages of being a parent as an employee. Preparing to become a parent, settling into being a parent, returning to work, and balancing work and parenting long term.
We have written a playbook for people leaders with guidance on how to support and empathise with a parent for each stage. We also have three survey's we send to parents at key moments in their journey.
Around 2-5% of the workforce go on parental leave each year. That’s all parents, not just mothers. So, if you have around 20 employees that’s between 0-1 person per year. Or, if you are 2,000 people that’s between 40-100 people.
If you want to work out what a benefit like this might cost you it’s: (12 weeks of your average salary) x (your current headcount) x 2-5%.
Your actual will vary, but not by much. It also doesn’t matter if your workforce is mostly men or mostly woman.
This is a challenge. We’ve made it easy for you. We're publishing an open source copy of our benefit, our parental journey surveys, and our playbook for people leaders.
Take a meaningful step towards supporting gender diversity, and all stressed out parents, in your workforce.
If we can do it, so can you.