At Kickstand, we are consistently acknowledged for the robust benefits package we offer our working parents. But we are also consistently asked “why” we offer benefits unique to this group. Before we share the somewhat long answer to this question, here’s the short version:
Because we should offer these benefits.
Because not enough companies offer enough of these benefits.
Because we can offer these benefits, and you can too.
Why comprehensive parental benefits are an imperative
Throughout this post, we’re going to primarily talk about working mothers, because women leaving the workforce or facing underemployment as a result of motherhood is a macro problem that needs solving. That said, we believe much of that happens due to inequality in our homes, so we support equal benefits for working moms and dads, and all our benefits are offered uniformly.
I’ve always liked the quote, “if you want something done, give it to a busy mother.” In my community, I’m surrounded by busy moms. And whether they work outside the home full-time, part-time, or not at all, I have watched these women become wizards of time and task management (among other things). Yet, despite moms’ valuable skill sets, motherhood continues to be a leading reason why women drop out of the workforce or are underemployed.
In the tech industry at large, there’s a historic lack of support for working moms. As of 2022, only 30% of tech workers have access to paid family leave benefits, despite the pandemic-era push for more comprehensive packages. With women making up only 32% of leadership positions in the technology, information, and media industries, there’s an urgent need to correct for this decades-long disparity.
All of these are good reasons why we should work to improve work for working moms, but at Kickstand we focus on this issue because our business allows us to sit particularly close to it. We are first and foremost PR professionals – a space that skews female by about 2:1 and is among the highest paying careers for women. This means that as a business, we are more likely to become the victim of our best talent leaving the company when they start a family, and we are uniquely situated to create a bigger impact.
Exploring the macro problem
Parenting is its own form of leadership. And much like we try to replicate the good parenting we received from our parents and correct that which we perceived as bad, we form our own leadership style based on the good and the bad leadership we’ve experienced. The difference is that in business, we only like to talk about the good. We love to shout out our mentors and rave about what we learned from past CEOs. What we like to do a whole lot less is talk about the bad experiences that formed our leadership – the ones that made us say, “I’ll never…” But the truth is, Kickstand’s philosophy on working parents was born out of negative leadership experiences. So let’s rip off that bandaid!
When I was pregnant with and delivered my first son, it was a busy time in our lives. I was working full-time in my first role as a head of marketing for a software company while pursuing my MBA. My husband was working and attending law school. My company had raised a series A, and like all early-stage startups we were racing to find product-market fit as time and money ran down. It was a high-stress role in a high-stress time for the company, and that likely contributed to the lack of support I received. But it certainly does not make it okay.
When I disclosed my pregnancy, I was shocked to learn that I wouldn’t receive a single day of paid maternity leave. Now, you might be wondering why I didn’t ask this question before I took the job, and believe me, I’ve asked myself this many times. But the answer is that it honestly didn’t occur to me that “real” companies didn’t offer any paid maternity leave. But as I mentioned above – only 30% of tech workers today have access to paid family leave benefits – and that’s nearly three times better than other private industries.
It’s one thing to face a lack of support, but my experience went beyond that to what I like to call “negative support.” I was met with bias and an apparent intention to make things extra difficult on me because I was pregnant. There was one instance where I had an ultrasound that showed some troubling results, and I had to rush in for a second scan to determine if my son had a catastrophic diagnosis or not – thankfully everything turned out okay on that front.
I received the initial phone call while we were prepping for a board meeting. Instead of showing me empathy or expressing concern for my son’s health, my colleagues decided to make me the target of their anxiety-fueled rage. I was screamed at by the CEO, who told me if I went to that appointment, I must not care about the company. Never mind the fact that I typically worked ~10 hour days in the office with our team and had a demonstrated passion for what I was doing. That said, I still attended the appointment and was back in about two hours to finish the board meeting prep.
After I delivered my son, I intended to take a measly two weeks off. Members of the executive team started calling me immediately. They had decided to create a new product over the weekend (while I was, quite literally, giving birth), and they needed me involved in the decision-making process. I informed them that I wasn’t coming into the office, but joked that they were welcome to come to my apartment if it was really that important. And they did.
Just four days after my son was born, there I was, hosting a meeting in my home. After that, I returned to work to find they’d made a new hire on my team without consulting me. They would then intentionally schedule important decision-making meetings while I was pumping (in a closet, no less).
I recently read a post that said your child is either a bully, a supporter, an observer, or a helper. In my case, the CEO was the bully, one of the founders was a supporter, and everyone else on the executive team was an observer. I often think about how other members of the team – ones who were older and more experienced than me – could have and should have done more. That would’ve been a demonstration of good leadership, no? Instead, I was left with a lot of “I’ll nevers,” and a vow that no one who ever worked for me would be mistreated the way I had been.
I wish I could say things were much brighter over at MIT, but it was nearly a decade ago. The conversations we have openly today were not as prominent then. The executive MBA program required attending long class days on Fridays and Saturdays. The two primary challenges I faced were needing flexibility on attending classes and turning in assignments in the days surrounding the birth of my son, as well as a solution for nursing during class.
When I requested additional time for assignments, I was given a single week. While this is a heck of a lot better than nothing, it didn’t make a huge difference. And at the time, there was no option for remote learning. I ultimately missed only one weekend of classes right after my son was born.
The MIT area can be difficult to access due to a lack of convenient, affordable parking. Knowing my husband would need to bring our son to campus so I could feed him multiple times per day, we asked if there were any accommodations they could offer for nearby parking, or any ideas to make that reality easier. No solutions were offered, but they did allow me to nurse in a conference room with dozens of windows for the whole world to see.
It was so difficult for my husband to get there with the baby and for me to leave class to nurse that we were only able to make it happen for one weekend. After that, I switched to pumping. To be fair, I believe mothers attending today have better support and more flexibility than we did back then. But my experience left me with even more “I’ll nevers.”
We can (and you can too)
Business leaders across every industry need to appropriately consider what they can do for their working parents. A business has real needs and real costs, so the solutions we’ve employed at Kickstand may not be possible everywhere. But the spirit of these benefits – the spirit of strong, empathetic leadership – should remain the same, no matter what resources you can feasibly offer. Here’s a snapshot of the steps you can take to support your working parents, as well as some of the initiatives we’ve taken here at Kickstand:
A culture of support: It may be easy to read my story and say I should have advocated for myself more, and perhaps that’s true. But here’s a real fact – new parents, especially first-time parents, don’t know what they don’t know (which is a lot). We need those around us who know better to do better for us. Leaders in your organization should not sit back and wait for expecting families to tell them what they need. Leaders should lead. They should proactively come to team members to start a conversation.
Flexibility: Working parents need flexibility, and if you offer it to them, they will be more successful at work and home alike. Kickstand offers a uniquely flexible culture, as well as mega perks like every other Friday off (for all employees) that allow working parents the time they need. Additionally, benefits like sick days can be used to stay home if a child is sick.
Money: Starting and raising a family is expensive. What can you offer to help with that reality? Kickstand offers a working parent stipend of $500 per month. This stipend is “no questions asked,” and parents are free to use it how they choose. That said, we encourage them to consider what will enable them to be more focused at work and in the time they have with their family. The most common uses of the stipend are laundry services, cleaning services, and grocery/food prep.
Parental leave: The time immediately following birth is vital. As a nation, we are horribly behind. At Kickstand, what we work to solve for is confirmed paid leave, the ability to transition back to work, and flexibility to change the plan if needed. Our parental leave is “design your own,” and it starts with the premise of 12 weeks of no work at full pay and an additional 6 weeks of ½ work at full pay. This can be used any time within a year of birth or adoption.
Family Planning: Everyone should have the ability to start a family on their own terms. Kickstand’s Family Planning Grant means all employees are eligible to receive financial support for processes like adoption, IVF, and other types of assisted reproductive technology. Kickstanders can also use the grant to help cover the costs associated with out-of-state travel required to access abortion care.