First: Even though I was/still am the founder and CEO of a baby food company, I didn't know @%#t about what it would really be like to have one
It was in Early February 2010, that my husband and I got to experience that scary yet blissful act of bringing home a new baby. I had a totally new job to do. And it was entirely on top of the other job of running the business that had consumed me 110% up until that day.
My business, Happy Baby, was just about to pop. We first launched in 2006 but it was 2010 that would be our first year of real meaningful success. Talk about being in demand- I had to recover from a c-section, constantly raise money to sustain our growth from a bevy of investors, deal with the stress of not having steady income, carry around a pump and be everywhere to make sure we were feeding the country’s children the absolute best.
Because of these demands, I only took 10 real days off work when my son was born, which sadly is what 25% of moms in the US do. When I look back, I really regret not having the time to truly enjoy my newborn. I want to make sure our employees could have the chance to be with their baby during this special time, and be supported in what they need for their own situations. I believe if we can do this, our employees come back to work happy and productive which end up being much better for business.
So for the other small business owners (that make up 97% of the businesses in our economy and employ about half of all women in the US), here’s some inspiration on how to work with the parents who work so hard for you:
1. Moms need a supportive understanding culture at the workplace. Any business can create that with some managerial training and open conversations. At Happy Family, we make breast feeding easier. We have designated pump rooms with hospital grade pumps in our offices.
I would pump, type emails and be on the phone at the same time...with the door to my office open. Nowadays, we don't have a meeting without someone pumping at the conference table or hearing the sound of the pump whooshing on a teleconference.
2. Flexibility is mom’s bff: There are going to be days when Moms (and Dad’s too) need to be home to go to an important appointment or take care of a sick child. A workplace that honors the challenge of being a new parent is one that allows for flexibility. . At Happy Family, new moms can work from home if needed. We also allow moms to bring their baby into the office when she needs/wants to and have built a small nursery to help make this happen.. We keep a list of emergency babysitters in case someone is in a bind and needs to make it to a meeting. We realize that life is full of unscheduled surprises and we try to have resources ready to support moms and help them feel good about also following their career path.
3. Paid leave is hard for small growing businesses, but we need to prioritize offering whatever we can afford. It is actually more costly to replace a mom who doesn’t want to come back to work than it is to pay for maternity leave. Before today, we offered 6 weeks of leave for moms who had been with us for a year. We have decided to now make an individualized plan with each of our expecting employees so we can support a healthy and happy return to work over a 6 month period - with at least 12 weeks of paid leave. Additionally we have paternal leave, and we treat adoptions and surrogate births the same way.
I believe that if we support our moms and their choices, they will come back to work more energized and effective. And let’s face it, moms have a whole new set of skills that, in my opinion, only enhance her professionally.