From Startups to Sippy Cups: How Your Organization Can Be More Mommy Friendly

Beautiful business lady sitting at the table and working on laptop while holding her little baby

Startups and parenting have endless similarities. Both require patience, hard work, and agility. Both require long hours, problem solving, and communication skills. Both change the way we see the world, a factor that is becoming more evident as leadership builds more comprehensive policies for their employees with children. Neither gets a sick day.

The following is a list of “mum” friendly policies and benefits that startups looking to stay on trend should consider implementing for little to no cost, but great benefit, to both the employee and employer:

Family Planning. While most startups will not have the funding to provide the holy grail of costly family planning benefits: paid fertility care, adoption/surrogacy fee reimbursement, paid family leave, and paid childcare, the ability to offer vetted family planning resources is an easy provision and shows employees that their employer cares. Partner with local providers to provide free informational sessions and speak with local lenders to help facilitate financial planning. If your startup is at a stage where it can provide complete coverage and/or reimbursement for such services, even better.

Train Your Managers. Organizations don’t usually hire employees for their soft skills. And, it is not fair to expect managers to intuit how to handle pregnancy announcements or working parents returning from leave post-baby. Yet, a manager’s dealings can have a tremendous impact on the employee/employer relationship. There are a lot of emotions involved and delicate conversations to be had. In addition, there may be breastfeeding and/or pumping issues, which will entail specific compliance with applicable federal, state, and local lactation accommodation laws.

Acknowledge the Expected. Preventing “Maternal Wall” bias begins with positively acknowledging a pregnancy or adoption/surrogacy intentions and providing support from the very start. Encourage employees to pipe up about their intentions as soon as they are comfortable, by making it company policy to provide employees with a benefits package that includes prenatal and new parent transition support. Make it known that their job is secure, and they will be provided with the tools and resources needed to make working parenthood succeed.

Provide New Parent Support. New Parent Transition Coaching provides employees with the tools and resources they need to thrive in the transition from “working person” to “working parent” and allows them to achieve both their personal and professional goals. By offering employees a little support during a sensitive time in their professional lives, employers can expect to see increases in employee productivity and post-leave retention rates. There is no better way to drive long-term loyalty than supporting working parents in their transition.

Offer Lactation Assistance. While the law requires employers to provide nursing employees with a private, locked space and unlimited time to express their breastmilk (amongst many other requirements), employers that offer assistance beyond the minimums required derive the greatest financial benefit. Such assistance can include access to hospital-grade breast pumps, on-call lactation consultants and fully outfitted Lactation Rooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that for every $1 an employer spends on lactation assistance, the ROI is 300% due to healthcare savings, decreased absenteeism and increased retention rates.

Warm Welcome Back. A little acknowledgment can go a long way. Ensure your company policy includes measures for how managers should warmly welcome back employees from family leave post-baby. Far too often, an improper acknowledgement, or complete lack of one altogether, sets a long-term tone of resentment and employee negativity. A simple standard gift of a coffee mug, a $5 gift card to Starbucks and maybe a picture frame neatly presented can go a long way in saying “we know the transition back will be hard and we have your back.” Companies need to utilize every opportunity possible to set and reset company culture.

Allow Babies at Work. Provide new mums with the option of bringing their babies to work for the first six months. Until six months of age, babies mostly sleep, can be easily entertained in a pack and play or swing, and/or “worn” by mum as she works. This perk is far less costly than onsite daycare and tends to get employees back to work faster. For the employee, it allows more bonding time and creates long-term goodwill amongst the parents participating.

Offer Flex Time. Flex time allows employees to shift the typical 40-hour 9-5, Monday through Friday work week to another 40-hour work week arrangement that allows them to better juggle their concurrent personal and professional responsibilities. Various options include: Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; or Wednesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. When it does not conflict with an employee’s particular role, flex schedules can increase employee productivity by allowing employees to be more fully present and less distracted by outside personal obligations.

Support Job Shares. Job sharing is a type of flexible work arrangement in which two people work part-time schedules to complete the work one person would do in a single full-time job. A key benefit is continual coverage to the employer, with job flexibility for the employee. In many cases, two part-time employees will contribute more to the single role, than one person in the same position. Given the particular role, job shares can be win-win for the employee and employer.

Backup Childcare. Again, while a startup may not be able to provide the setup and availability of onsite childcare, they can provide employees with the resources to handle those emergency situations such as partnering with local daycare sites to negotiate special employee rates and the availability of childcare on a temporary basis. Weekend work retreat? Budget in onsite childcare at the hotel or conference site so mum can fully engage, while her kids are entertained with a day of camp-like activities.

Working Mums’ Support Group. Working parents are looking for, and need, more camaraderie in the trenches. By providing new parents with an outlet to share their experiences and develop an at-work support system, employers can reap the rewards of loyalty and dedication, while improving retention rates amongst new parents. Having friends at work matters, and there is nothing more influential than a group of likeminded women coming together to share their war stories of working parenthood and survival. It can sometimes be the most important “perk” to a job.

Encourage Mentorships. Provide working mums with a role model. If possible, partner them with another working mum who can provide company specific insights into balancing one’s career with motherhood. Alternatively, just provide a mentor – working mum or not. Having an inside advocate and sounding board can be immensely helpful to one’s career advancement. For the employer, mentoring programs communicate the message that the company cares and creates internal comradery that goes a long way to encourage retention and employee dedication.

Hire Career Coaches. Career coaches work with employees to help them achieve career objectives, taking a solution-oriented approach. While everyone benefits from a coach’s expertise, the employer is clearly the ultimate beneficiary. But to maximize ROI, it is important that the skills of the coach align with the needs of the employee. Programs such as Villyge’s New Parent Transition Coaching specialize in assisting working parents in the achievement of both their personal and professional goals and are best suited for working parents. Not only will such programs help chip away at the “Maternal Wall,” providing working mums with the tools to remove the maternal stigma, but they again show working mums that they are supported and cherished by their employer.

Create Community. Companies that emphasize family both internally and externally achieve results. Employees work harder when they feel that they are part of a team, so create one! Host weekend or after hour events that include children and partners. By getting to know not just the employee, but the employee’s entire family unit, ties are created. Managers are more understanding of sick days collected due to Johnny’s cold and employees work harder, feeling they have the support of their employer. 

Encourage School Involvement. FOMO (“fear of missing out”) isn’t just a teen thing. One of the most difficult aspects of working parenthood is knowing that you cannot always be there, but employers can help. Provide time off for school sanctioned events during the workday. Classroom celebrations, choral concerts, and volunteer days are the stuff mummy memories are made of. An employer that understands this, and supports full participation in such events, will forever be the employee’s hero. Create a back-to-school calendar; allow employees to note upcoming events and encourage co-workers to celebrate children’s milestones.

Give Birthdays Off. A little “me time” can be great for anyone, but for the working mum, employer sanctioned time off to regale in one’s special day is the greatest gift of all. At least once a year, mum can be assured the opportunity to do as she wishes. While all employees would appreciate the perk, the working mums will particularly cherish that extra found time.

Give Half Days for Kids’ Birthdays. Despite the ability to create “mummy magic” and make the impossible happen, sometimes it takes a lot of smoke and mirrors to move mountains. Help mum out, give her a little extra time to make junior’s birthday special. Give working parents the opportunity to close shop early and make a memory. The few hours of lost productivity will reap innumerable future dividends by way of long-term loyalty. It is an easy way for an employer to demonstrate they respect and encourage family time in our world of 24/7 employee expectations.

Today, employers expect employees to be on call 24/7, with emails and texts continuing outside the office. While this may be the new norm, to attract and retain a dedicated workforce, employers must incorporate family friendly policies. With mum still claiming a majority of the responsibility for the household and kids, it is even more important for employers to ensure they are providing the types of support mum needs to be productive at work and home, lest they lose an important sector of the workplace population. After all, 83% of millennials report they would leave their current job for one that offered better family-friendly benefits.

Thankfully, the working parent landscape is shifting to include the implementation of many of the parent-friendly policies listed above. These policies are tangible proof that companies support working women and truly care about their employees. Whether or not an employee is a parent themselves, such policies set a positive tone, benefit recruiting efforts, and have been shown to increase retention rates for both parents and non-parents alike. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, whether you’re drinking from your coffee cup or a sippy cup.

– Debi Yadegari is Founder and CEO of Villyge. Villyge is a management consulting company that partners with employers to provide working parent support.  They offer Corporate Lactation Support Services, New Parent Transition Coaching, Hospital Grade Breast Pump Rentals, Manager Sensitivity Training, and Legal and HR Compliance.