Here’s How You Can Use the Scientific Process to Help Excel As a Working Mom (And Other Tricks!)

Sponsored by Qualtrics

Nicole Parish. Photo courtesy of Qualtrics.

Nicole Parish. Photo courtesy of Qualtrics.

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April 15, 2024 at 3:21AM UTC

What does the scientific process have to do with maternity leave? Well, according to Nicole Parish, global talent brand attraction manager at Qualtrics, the scientific process is more than something you learned in middle school — it applies to the world of working parents, too.

“I try to approach each new situation with the mindset of a scientist who is willing to try — at the risk of failing — because that’s how progress is made,” explains Parish. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t, and that’s okay. As Parish says, “you may launch out of the motherhood starting gate like nobody’s business. Go you! You may not. Go you! But life is full of stumbling and flying. Be willing to let yourself do both, just like you’ll let your babies do both, because then you’ll really be living.”

At Qualtrics, working parents are truly empowered to live this advice and be their full, authentic selves throughout their parental journey. “I think Qualtrics has such a solid parental experience because it hasn’t designed that experience for just the moment of birth,” Parish explains. With “policies that serve to outline and protect the parental experience, it’s really a family-first kind of company.”

Parish has been with Qualtrics for over four years, elevating the stories of employees and what the “Qualtrics Life” is like so job seekers can discover if Qualtrics is a good fit for their careers and personal lives.

“Moving to Qualtrics was such an incredible opportunity for me because of how the team lives out our values,” Parish shares. “It meant that I could operate with even more transparency in our storytelling, and I knew that the key to my career was to be with companies that allowed their stories to be told.”

We caught up with Parish, a mother of two, to learn more about her maternity leaves, her experiences returning to work, and how her company supports her. Here’s what she had to say…

How did you prepare for maternity leave and what advice can you offer to other moms who are expecting their first child? 

Preparing for both of my children was very similar in the end — what was different was my level of anxiety and understanding of what each part of the preparation was about. I focused with my manager, both times, on preparing the scope of work that I was taking on during the earliest months of my pregnancy. We focused on projects that could complete or be handed over succinctly. 

We also spent time outlining how I wanted to keep in touch while I was out. This kind of communication was critical to alleviating my anxiety (and yes, guilt) over being out. I came to realize that most of the feelings you have about maternity leave are normal (talk to your OB/Midwife if those feelings are becoming overwhelming though!). I found that the way to reduce them was to address them head-on. Doing that highlighted how I was responding to lots of little anxieties and enabled me to honor my own emotional wellness. 

My advice to moms would be: 

1. You know yourself. You can and should communicate your needs, concerns, and desires. to the people around you as you prepare to step away from your work for whatever period of time you’ll be away. 

2. Set expectations with your leaders on what is okay and not okay for contact while you’re away. You may not realize it, but businesses have minimum and maximum expectations around what they can do without your explicit consent, or without you taking the first move. If you’re feeling forgotten by your team, reach out! They haven’t forgotten you. They’re giving you space to adjust to this new layer of your life. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with the outreach you’re getting, share it with your leader

3. Trust yourself (and your medical team) about what you need/don’t need to change about your working life before the baby comes. You’ll get a LOT of unsolicited advice — and care — from people around you. Knowing that the person you’re going to listen to is you helps mitigate the pressure. I’d often respond, “thank you for that, I’ll absolutely consider it,” to acknowledge the person’s care but to keep the ball in my court. And remember that the majority of people are giving that advice with good intent, too. 

How long were you on maternity leave and what was it like to return to work? 

For my first baby, we were living in the U.K. and I was able to take six months off. For my second, I took three months off completely and then took advantage of Qualtrics’s four-week part-time return-to-work policy. Returning to work each time has been an exercise in reflecting on what “return to work” meant to me. 

From a practical standpoint, there was building a return-to-work plan with my leaders, which allowed me to be successful as a parent and as a professional. During my first return-to-work process, I wasn’t as open to having vulnerable conversations with leadership about what my return-to-work process could look like. I was so concerned with the optics of returning to work as a “strong contributor” that I ran headlong into my old routine. Thankfully, I had strong leaders and a great team who made the one decision that I don’t regret. But I did learn from that. 

For my second return to work, I began by starting a very open conversation with my leadership. I shared the outline of my plan, and we mutually agreed to milestones and timelines to guide that plan, as well as detailing the priorities my team needed me to achieve. This meant that I was able to have the kind of return-to-work plan that really suited both my career and my life as a parent, without the worry about what my leaders thought of me.

From an emotional standpoint, the first days back were scary, exciting, and full of guilt. Everything about the return had feelings. During my first return, I didn’t sit in those feelings as much as I probably should have. Honoring the role of fear and guilt that comes with someone else caring for your child alongside the excitement and relief of time by yourself was something that I could have done better. Both times I’ve come back feeling “behind,” and learning to juggle two kids at once was a masterclass in fumbling.

This time, I’ve learned how to be gentler and more forgiving with myself and kinder to all my feelings. My open conversations with my leadership team have meant many of those feelings are less intense, but it’s also meant that I felt comfortable sharing when I fumbled and less self-conscious of my identity as a professional and a mom. 

What type of programs does Qualtrics offer to new and expectant mothers?

Qualtrics offers several programs to support birthing parents and partners of birthing parents. In the U.S., birthing parents are able to take some leave before their due date to prepare for the baby's arrival (either one or two weeks, depending on years of service). We have Short-Term Disability leave (six weeks of initial leave, eight for c-sections), which is paid at 100% for someone who has been with us for a year or more and 60% for less than a year. You can take an additional six weeks of leave after, or at any time before the baby's first birthday, which is paid at 100% and known as Paid Family Leave. 

For adopting and surrogate parents and other non-birthing parents, the same Paid Family leave is available to be taken. 

Parents returning from leave can participate in our Return to Work plan, which allows for a person to work part-time hours for the first month of their return. This allows people to handle their change in routine in a gradual manner and to begin adjusting to work and parenthood coming together. 

After returning to work, we have a partnership with Milk Stork that allows parents who utilize breast milk to send their milk back to their child if they are traveling for work. Additionally, our sick leave policy extends to dependents, ensuring that a parent can take time off to care for their child without trying to juggle work and illness. We also have a returning parent mentorship program and run several communities to bring together people with similar parenting situations to help support one another. 

Beyond that, we have a strong training program and guidance for managers to ensure that they can properly support team members who are becoming parents. We understand that it’s often not just how the parent handles the change but how their leaders and peers do as well that determines the quality of the working parenting experience. 

Why do you think Qualtrics is a particularly great place to be a working mom?

In our Provo HQ, we have a big playroom and families are welcome to come in to visit. We also have our first company daycare in Provo, which offers a STEAM-based early childhood curriculum and is a five-minute walk from the main office.

Our leaders are taught — and expected — to be empathetic with our parents and to work with them to find solutions when work and home life are challenging each other. Qualtrics also has a culture that focuses on people being able to have transparent conversations. Having a safe space to have those kinds of conversations means that being a working mom at Qualtrics can look different based on your needs; however, your desire to prioritize your family’s wellbeing is always supported. 

The other thing that stands out to me is that I see our teams constantly iterating on the experiences we have — and part of that iteration means asking for our input. Our Benefits team annually asks about how we prioritize certain benefits options, and our leadership team assesses how our current experience helps us to continuously attract new and existing talent to our team. Knowing that my opinion is wanted, and heard, makes Qualtrics a really great place to work.

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