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Our daughter Ellie is my greatest coach. She borrowed her dad’s t-shirt for this pic—fits like a glove! Photo © Vivienne Kay

Why we should hire more moms in tech (and in general)

Before I left for maternity leave I was worried that taking a whole year off to spend with a tiny person who can’t form full sentences (or any words at all, for that matter) would turn my brain to mush.

Sure, I worried I’d forget all my design skills, but I also wondered if I’d lose all the in-between skills. You know, those basic workplace skills like how to communicate clearly but efficiently on Slack, how to stay organized while juggling multiple projects, or how to keep focused in a busy environment and still get sh*t done. Just four months into mat leave and I’m convinced that going on maternity leave (or parenting full-time for any period of time) actually enhances most life and workplace skills.

Maternity leave (or full-time parenting) is like an intensive bootcamp that enhances essential life AND workplace skills!

Who’s this article for?

If you’re about to go on maternity leave, and have the same worries I did about all of your relevant work skills becoming sludge, I’m here to tell you not to fear! In fact, I’m here to welcome you to the toughest (and loveliest) Mommy Bootcamp that will hone your life and workplace skills.

If you’re coming back from maternity leave or years of full-time parenting, and/or debating whether you should return to the workplace because you’re doubting your rusty skills—here’s why I think you could be coming back to work even better than before.

If you’re hiring to grow your team or are on a talent acquisition/HR team, and wondering if you should take a chance on the mom or not (because aren’t moms preoccupied with kid stuff and always rushing to pick them up and all that), here are my thoughts on why she may actually be a firecracker force on your team.

If you’re just plain curious about this maternity leave business—what’s it like, and isn’t it a holiday where you get to kick back, go on coffee dates with friends, and watch Netflix all the time? Welcome. Let me provide a glimpse into the world of maternity leave—right after I finish my espresso macchiato and hit pause on this 10 hour streak of Friends reruns. (JUST KIDDING! I barely had time to shower today. Hah! Joke’s on… me? 🤔)

Insights from maternity leave aka “Mommy Bootcamp”—the intensive course that hones life AND workplace skills.

Sidenote: Hey Dads, I didn’t forget about you! These skills also may be acquired on Daddy bootcamp for those single Dad’s out there, or for those who take long parenting shifts and are extra dedicated to their coursework.

Mommy Bootcamp Skill #1: Get sh*t done, fast!

Never before in my life have I been so aware of my time. That’s because 99.9% of my time right now revolves around feeding, changing, bouncing, playing, and snuggling with our adorable little squish. This means I have approximately 0.1% of free time to get anything done (like having a shower, tidying the living room, going for a run, writing a blog post, plotting world domination etc.).

Now, when you have 0.1% of the time you’re accustomed to—to complete absolutely any task—you find a way to be as efficient as possible at everything. You also learn ways to do multiple things at the same time, so that you can get 2 minutes of productivity out of every 1 minute of clock-time.

How this translates to the workplace: Time management is a skill that transfers beautifully to any workplace. This is especially relevant in a tech environment that thrives on speed. There are only a certain number of hours in a workday and you’ve got teams to rally, products to build, minds to blow! Thankfully, all mommy’s graduate from bootcamp as certified time ninjas — able to slice and dice and amplify 10 minutes of regular time into a magical 20 minutes of productivity time.

Mommy Bootcamp Skill #2: Get the most important sh*t done first!

Having less free time available means I’ve had to become crystal clear on my daily goals. Did I want to publish a medium article every week, and start a Shopify store, and kick off a personal blog, and write a book, and get a totally buff body with a chiseled six-pack and quads of steel, all while being on maternity leave and being a top-notch parent? Yes. Are all those things achievable if I have a 30 minute window of free time each day? Not likely.

This means I’ve had to become super selective about what I choose to take on, adjust my expectations for timeframes, and get creative to be more efficient at the tasks that I deem worthy of my time and energy.

In other words, I’ve had to:

  • Become crystal clear on my top priorities for any free window of time (because who knows if squeak’s naptime will last 5 minutes or 2 hours!)
  • Do some serious real-talk to get clear on what’s actually realistic for me to achieve in any given day.
  • Learn how to celebrate the wins as they come — big or small! Showered today? Celebrate! Wrote a paragraph in my blog article? Celebrate! Baked pumpkin spice muffins (true story!)? CELEBRATE!

How this translates to the workplace: Every business strives to get the most bang for their buck, within the constraints of limited time and resources. The trick is hiring leaders that are realistic about goals and able to prioritize the most important tasks, or projects, first. This is product management 101 folks! We’ve all been on those teams where the timelines were consistently underestimated and extended ad infinitum. In my experience this tends to lower team morale, kill momentum, and frustrate other teams like sales and marketing. As far as I see it, there are three pillars of productivity here: Setting realistic expectations for how much you, or your team, can accomplish in a given time period, prioritizing tasks to maintain momentum towards your goal, and mastering motivation by celebrating the wins as they come, no matter how big or small.

Mommy Bootcamp Skill #3: Be constantly interrupted, but still get sh*t done!

You know that feeling when you’re in that awesome place of focus and flow?You probably have your headphones in and your serious game-face on and you are jamming on a design, or spreadsheet, or document. You are crushing life by being epically productive. You’re so absorbed, so laser focused on your task, that your surrounding environment fades into a misty fog and all sounds blend into the background like a soothing white noise machine.

And then…BOOM. That glorious mist is shattered by a looming face in your peripheral vision, or the tap tap tap of a disembodied arm. Your focus shattered, the mist fades to reveal a teammate who has magically appeared right beside you. Have they been there this whole time? They always seem to be there to download their concerns, or ask a highly specific question, or chat for an undetermined length of time, about a totally different project or idea, don’t they?

Well, in Mommy Bootcamp that situation happens about 100,000 times a day. Except, instead of a coworker, you have a teeny tiny person who is dedicated to interrupting you in literally every single task or activity (using the toilet is no exception—there is NO SAFE PLACE!). To keep you on your toes, this happens at randomized intervals throughout the day. And in Mommy Bootcamp, the stakes are even higher than an average workplace! It’s sink or swim—adapt or remain unwashed, unfulfilled, starved, and doomed to dwell in piles of filth and stale spit-up forever!

(Fun sidenote: Just as I was writing that last sentence, my bub woke up and interrupted my writing jam. Classic.)

In other words, all mommas must learn to master the art of leaving themselves inter-household memos, and carving out new pockets inside our brains where we can store information and hit pause and resume on any given task, at any given moment, throughout the day (or night).

How this translates to the workplace: Healthy communication across teams is key to the success and productivity of any workforce. The more wonderfully diverse our teams become, the more each employee must adapt to various communication styles and frequency of interruptions. Some teammates will ping each other on slack 5–500 times a day, others will prefer the gentle tap on the shoulder at randomized intervals, and occasionally a select few will engage age-old tactics of physically looming until their body-warmth or mouth breathing attracts the desired attention. Needless to say, the more resilient each teammate is towards a wide variety—in style and frequencyof interruptions throughout their day, the better!

Mommy Bootcamp Skill #4: Keep calm when sh*t hits the fan!

I have been pooped on. It feels strangely satisfying to type that sentence, like I’ve received an honorary badge of motherhood. But I digress. While shit has not actually hit the fan (because we don’t have a fan), it has hit various other things around the house. My belly. My pants. The carseat. And only the whitest of onesies (RIP).

I have also been yelled at. I’m talking SCREAM YELLING at a pitch I previously believed was reserved exclusively for harpies and pterodactyls.

Aaaand I have survived the crushing responsibility knowing that another person’s whole entire life is dependent on me showing up as my most collected, calm and patient self when sh*t hits the metaphorical fan and there’s constant scream-yelling.

How this translates to the workplace: In other words, Mommy Bootcamp provides an intensive course in staying cool and collected when everyone around you (or one tiny and impossibly loud person) is unable to stay calm. It’s the ability to switch the brain into calm survival mode that could be an asset in any workplace. For example:

  • The company is bleeding millions of dollars an hour because we shipped a broken piece of code? Activate calm survival mode!
  • The looooooong meeting you’re in has become frustrating for everyone, and people are getting emotional and taking jabs at each others’ ideas? Activate calm survival mode!
  • You’re trying to focus on finishing one simple task but you’ve had 50 interruptions in the past 20 minutes and you’re ready to tear your hair out? Activate calm survival mode!

So many applications for calm survival mode in any and all the workplace environments!

Mommy Bootcamp Skill #5: Learn and apply loads of new sh*t every day!

I cannot begin to describe how steep the parenting learning curve was for me. One day I’m pregnant, and the next I’m responsible for the survival of an itty-bitty human with the communication skills of a potato and vocal cords of a mountain lion that’s in heat.

There is so much to learn! How do you fold a swaddle around a wriggling baby and keep them tight enough to feel soothed, but not tight enough to feel squashed? How do you teach someone how to fall asleep without the aid of language or any communication tools? What are the 5 S’s of settling and why should you care? What colour poop is concerning? What is a blowout and how can you prepare for one? What carrier is the best for baby’s hip health? What is tummy time, and how much time are we talking? How does this bloody carseat work? The list is endless, and (to make it extra fun) it all changes. EVERY. DAY.

Take naptime for example. What worked today to create the perfect balance between under and over tiredness, will not necessarily work tomorrow. What’s appropriate this month (like length of each nap), won’t be appropriate in a month or two to come. Also, daytime nap capabilities and routines are usually different from nighttime—depending on squeak’s age, and mood, and the positioning of the planets. Basically, unless you have a magical unicorn-cyborg baby that eats and sleeps automatically all day, your sanity, your survival, depends on your ability to constantly learn and adapt.

How this translates to the workplace: Star employees will keep adding value to their teams, and to a company, by constantly evolving and actively pursuing growth-oriented goals. They thrive in the face of change, are resilient in the midst of chaos! They wear their nerdy glasses and adaptability cape with pride as they take each challenge or mistake as an opportunity to learn. Above and beyond, they’re insanely resourceful—and can find valuable information by leveraging mad social and/or google search skills, to help them stay ahead of the curve!

In conclusion

I hope you’re also now convinced that Mommy Bootcamp (aka maternity leave, aka parenting in general) is a terrific way to boost your life AND workplace skillset!

And so, if you’re about to go on maternity leave, I hope this relieved any worries you have about your skillsets tragically vanishing while you’re away.

For those of you coming back from maternity leave (or years of full-time parenting), I hope this article was the wind beneath your confidence cape as you re-enter the workforce!

If you’re hiring, I hope you’re starting the hunt to recruit more mammas to diversify your team with their firecracker forces!

And if you were just plain curious about this maternity leave business, I hope you’re not too traumatized by the thought of pterodactyl screams and still maybe will have kids of your own one day (if that’s what you want—you do you).

Thanks for reading folks! I don’t get much praise these days (outside of baby smiles after diaper changes—which are pretty great, but also come with poop smells) so if you enjoyed this post, please click-click-click on that little applause icon, leave me a comment with your thoughts and feels, follow me on Medium, and share with all your mommy (and non-mommy) friends. K thanks, bye for now!

Senior product designer (UX) @Shopify

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