Ever breast-fed your infant while on a video call? I have. How about hiding photos of your kids from your desk for fear of colleague questioning your commitment to the job? That’s my company’s head of sales and marketing’s past experience. Skipping out on your child’s soccer game because of a non-essential meeting? Yep, says my company’s chief legal counsel & head of risk, a working dad of two, about the choices he had to make in previous workplaces.
If you’re a working parent with young children, you’ve likely negotiated the dual role of parent and career-minded employee, feeling pulled in both directions and feeling successful at neither. Welcome to the club.
As a serial entrepreneur and CEO currently leading MyVillage, I’ll let you in on a secret: working parents get it done. That’s why I’ve intentionally stacked my C-suite — and frankly, my entire company — with employees who also value being parents. Everyone in my C-suite is a working mom or dad, and working moms make up the majority of our staff team.
I hire with this in mind because, in my experience, working parents make intuitive leaders in a high-growth environment. My current venture helps people (mostly moms) start high quality, in-home childcare businesses, so my team is uniquely positioned to understand the pain point facing our customers —and to come up with solutions. But after more than a decade of starting companies and raising more than $250 million in venture capital, I’ve seen the dividends that flow from hiring working moms and dads in other sectors, too. There is an old adage: “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” Parents are busy and they don’t want to waste time. They focus and deliver, especially in these three ways.
When employees work on a problem they have experienced personally, they are inspired to think outside of the box. There’s no more important skill to have within your C-suite than this ability to see a problem from multiple angles, and anyone with a toddler knows a lot about high stakes negotiation and the need for a diverse toolbox of tactics. I’ve also noticed that working parents tend to close ranks to support each other across the finish line, whether that’s launching a new product line, solving a tricky UX issue or closing an important sale.
When you create a workplace culture that reflects the reality of working parents, all employees are happier. A recent Deloitte study shows that while companies increasingly understand the importance of creating a positive culture at work, few are doing it well. Hiring a majority of working parents in the C-suite is one way to crack the code, and model inclusive, flexible leadership at the top. At my company, there is no shame felt at the office if you have to take a sick kiddo to the doctor mid-day, and no silent stares if you leave early on a Wednesday to go see your kid's big game. When executives leave early and loudly, but still get our work done, our employees are empowered to do the same. In fact, we have a Slack channel to share our kids talents so we can more openly blend our work and life. We have found this especially valuable since some of our team is distributed across several cities and states, so we don’t always have lunchtime to compare notes on our kids.
Flexibility at work, and prioritizing outcomes over hours, make all employees more engaged. Since most people want to have children or are already parents, companies that think creatively about what perks will attract them to end up with the best talent — think subsidized childcare, family health insurance, dependent care FSAs, work-from-home options, access to emergency back-up childcare... the list is only limited by your team’s creativity.
Part of why our company has been so successful in our first two years is because we’ve attracted a world-class team of executives. Because of our culture, our team knows that they can be fully present with their families, and when they are at work, I know they give our mission their full attention.
Certain “hacks” help us manage this work-life balance. For starters, every employee is assumed offline between childcare or school pick-up and bedtime. We use snooze notifications on our communication tools so that we know when someone is available or not. If something is truly urgent, we know not to assume a text, email or Slack message goes through, and that a phone call is required. We trust one another to know if a crisis requires ‘situation room’ escalation, and we never cry wolf. This helps us not just pay lip service to valuing each other’s time, but to truly practice it.
By embracing my team’s whole lives, I am able to get the best from them at work and they are able to give their families their best selves at home. Rather than feeling pulled and unsuccessful in our dual roles, our team is pushed to succeed in both. And that is a win-win that this CEO can count on.