It’s no shock that returning to work after having a baby is a big transition. From sleep deprivation to anxiety about job duties to pumping to leaving your tiny infant in the care of someone who is often not a family member, it’s no wonder that 43% of women don’t return to work post-baby. But what if there was a way to shift the dialogue, change the landscape for working mothers and make the support network around them so strong that those challenges don’t feel so grand?
HEYMAMA sees a new dawn rising for women-led revolts and ladies, it’s time we put our collective resources together and demanded change. To get the conversation started, we gathered at the New York City offices of Google for an in-depth discussion on work-life balance (or lack thereof) with panelists Demma Rodriguez, Head of Equity Engineering at Google, Annie Dean, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Werk, Melissa Enbar, VP of People & Culture at Birchbox and Charisse Cardasis, International Retail Specialist.
Change can happen and we want to be at the forefront. Read on…
All: How would you describe your experience coming back to work after you had a baby?
Annie Dean, Co-Founder, Werk: As a 27-year-old coming back to corporate law, it was bad enough to inspire me to co-found Werk.co, a flexibility insights company that helps companies work smarter.
Charisse Cardasis, International Retail Specialist: Anxiety inducing. It was like stepping into a new job. Was I still relevant? Did the company move on without me? I felt detached from all the things that used to excite me because I was too preoccupied with what was happening at home, and what I was missing. The company offered a flex back-to-work program, but a lot of moms didn’t take it because their workload didn’t decrease to fit into 3 to 4 days time, and it was perceived by some as having “one foot in and one foot out.”
Melissa Enbar, VP of People & Culture, Birchbox: Coming back to work after having a baby was an emotionally taxing experience. Leaving my infant for the first time, especially while nursing, was very, very hard. That said, I was lucky because Birchbox already had a lot of structure in place to calm those fears. Our company is female-founded, with a team that’s 75% female (and leadership team that’s nearly 90% female!) – so maternity leave has become a norm here. We’ve built a lot of programming and policies to support mothers returning to work, with the goal of relieving some of that anxiety.
All: What are some tips that any employer can take to make this a smooth transition for mamas coming back?
Annie: If you aren’t a parent, talk to parents who have been through this to make sure you can empathize and strategize and get equally serious about your parental leave policy and flexibility programs. It’s important to use flexibility to create a workplace experience that meets the motivations, skills and needs of every employee (including and especially mamas!)
Charisse: To my employer – help me figure out what to do with my child when I go back to work. That was a major source of stress for me, even while I was still on maternity leave. Unless you have grandparents waiting in the wings to be surrogate parents during working hours, you have to navigate the daycare vs nanny decision. I have this incredible precious new life put under my care, now which complete stranger should I entrust with your well-being, and then stalk remotely on the nest cam? Some guidance, or better yet, a built-in network of other company-moms who have gone through it before and who can make recommendations would have helped alleviate a lot of the unnecessary stress. I was the first of my friend group to have a baby and didn’t have anyone to turn to for that kind of advice.
Some guidance, or better yet, a built-in network of other company-moms who have gone through it before and who can make recommendations would have helped alleviate a lot of the unnecessary stress.
Melissa: One of the most important things employers can do is train managers and soon-to-be moms on the conversations they should be having pre- and post-maternity leave to set the mother up for success and continue her career development. We place an emphasis on onboarding moms as they transition back to work as a core part of our maternity policy. For example, Birchbox offers a ramp up period where your first 2 weeks back from work are part time, working 3 days a week or on an abbreviated daily schedule. We also contact new moms about 2 weeks prior to their return and talk to them about recent updates to the company, their role, their team, etc to prepare them for changes and calibrate them to the work environment.
In addition to open communication, we also prepare nursing mothers for the experience of pumping multiple times a day. We have a hospital-grade pump on site in a private room that is only bookable by nursing moms. We give each mother a space to store her pumping supplies and provide milk supply boosting teas and supplements like fenugreek. One of the most stressful parts about returning while nursing is that your milk supply can drop significantly!
Lastly, Birchbox pairs returning mothers with another new mom buddy to support them emotionally and tactically. Arranging a pumping schedule, figuring out milk supply, figuring out how to get your baby to sleep at night so you aren’t a zombie, missing your baby – these are all stressors for a new mom that their buddy supports.
Melissa, 43% of moms are not returning back or leaving within the first year. How do you support them personally with your leadership and direct reports?
Most of our moms do stay, but when we see them leave, it’s not right after maternity leave – it’s six months after that when they’re faced with new parenting challenges. So it’s critical for us to support our employees throughout their motherhood journeys, not just at the beginning.
Having a kid puts life into perspective. A job has to be worthwhile enough for you to want to dedicate so much of your time and energy. We ask managers to talk to all employees – but especially new moms – about their career path and make sure they understand the growth opportunities ahead of them.
The moms at Birchbox are so motivated and have so much to bring to the table – they’re certainly not looking to just settle into middle management and not work hard; they just need more flexibility. It’s not about the number of hours you work, it’s about effectiveness.
…it’s critical for us to support our employees throughout their motherhood journeys, not just at the beginning.
Charisse, you left Kate Spade within the first year after having your baby. You represent that large % of mothers that are not returning to work within that first year that we referred to above. Why didn’t you feel like you could go back? What could the company have done to alleviate this?
After a few months back at work, the decision became very clear. I don’t think I have a laundry list of things that the company could have done to sway my decision, although one would be a more flexible work schedule. That said, there are a few improvement areas that I think are broadly applicable across roles and industries: the three “Cs”: culture, care, and comp – listed in order of what I think companies should find easiest to implement.
Culture: I worked in a company where the workforce was predominantly female, where culture should naturally be more attuned to the needs of working mothers. The not-too surprising truth about living and working in NYC today is that many career-oriented women don’t start having children until their thirties—meaning that even in a majority-female work environment, a lot of the women can’t really relate to the experience of being pregnant for 9 months, giving birth, nurturing your baby 24/7 for several months, and then trying to go back to the grind… and that filters through the culture.
If company culture is designed to go out of its way to seamlessly support working mothers and recognize their unique needs (and, frankly, invaluable contributions to the workplace and society), instead of just tolerating them or giving them a grace period before things ‘go back to normal,’ then most of the big issues would resolve themselves—leading me to the other two C’s: making sure there’s adequate childcare solutions in place that are ideally part of the core employee benefit package, and that women are being fairly compensated overall in light of the significant costs and personal sacrifices involved in raising a child, especially in NYC.
…there are a few improvement areas that I think are broadly applicable across roles and industries: the three “Cs”: culture, care, and comp…
Annie, you work with some of the biggest companies in the worlding helping them understand where they can improve their HR practices. Have you seen companies change their perspective on the efficiency and effectiveness of hiring a working mom? Do you feel that the prejudice is still alive and well, even though disproven, that employers believe moms are less likely to handle a higher stress or higher expectations position?
Our perspective is that building an adaptive workday is a key way to make all employees work better, driving critical bottomline results for companies. “Adaptive” means we’re throwing in the garbage the idea of idea of clock-in, clock-out, every day same time same place. Instead, the workday should be adaptive to the human that is performing the job.
Yes, people are biased against women. People are biased against mothers. And to overcome that bias we’ve created unignorable data sets that help companies understand how important flexibility is to their core people strategies. It’s amazing how quickly company conversations have changed from “well what if we do everyone this favor” to “when everyone works this way, how should we manage it?”.
Do you have any ideas for helping new mother’s make a smooth transition back to work? Let us know! We want to be part of the change to support working mothers everywhere.