Have a Maternity Leave Policy You Can Be Proud Of

Working within a startup means that it’s easy to get stuck in that daily grind where one is constantly pushing to grow (even) faster or, in some cases, avoid startup death. It is within this kind of environment, where concepts like work-life balance and productivity hacks then get a lot of airtime.

We’re taking a break from that mindset though.

One of the things that we’re passionate about at Conversio is the idea that we can and should be family- and life-first in the way that we work. The idea of work-life balance suggests that work and life are constantly at odds for example and we just don’t agree with that.

In the last year, we decided not to raise more money and grow at a pace that’s comfortable to us. We also implemented a minimum holiday policy (where we keep each other accountable to take proper breaks) and started focusing on metrics like revenue per employee and the percentage of revenue that is paid to the team.

We did this as a way for Conversio to be the foundation for all of us to live the lives that we desire.

One of the final things that we needed to discuss and define was how we were going to work with maternity and / or paternity leave. We even labelled this a “Big Hairy Thing”, because it popped up often, but we didn’t quite know how to tackle this.

In defining a framework for maternity and paternity leave, we were clear about what we wanted to achieve:

  • We say we’re family-first and this was the perfect way to live up to that ideal.
  • We wanted to give every individual on the team the space to make their own decisions versus being forced to do something, because it’s in the policy.
  • We needed to consider the team and company’s interests too. Whatever we did for an individual needed to be fair to the rest of the team and couldn’t fatally hurt the company.
  • We wanted to be as close as possible to gender-neutral in whatever we decided.

We were relatively clear about those aims, but when we considered the challenges and grey areas, it wasn’t super-obvious how to marry the various considerations:

  • We’re a fully remote company, which means we can’t rely on the various governments / jurisdictions (within which our team reside) to help fund paid leave.
  • The various countries also had vastly different maternity leave policies, where countries like the US didn’t offer much compared to some Scandinavian countries that offered extensive, paid maternity leave.
  • We’re still very much in startup mode. Even though our profitability is growing, we need to be frugal and are reinvesting much of our free cash flow back into the business (especially given the fact that we’re unlikely to raise outside capital any time soon).
  • We’re still a small team (14 people) and if one or two of us went missing for an extended time, the rest of the team would definitely feel the additional workload and / or financial pressure.
  • Bringing in temporary help (via a freelancer for example) poses its own challenges and is not an ideal solution to combat the temporary loss of a team member’s capacity.

Given our aims and these challenges, we finally settled on a framework which feels fair, somewhat aspirational and representative of our values:

  1. We will pay for 28 weeks of leave for new moms. We recommend that this leave is split up in approximately two batches: about 4 weeks before their due date and up to 24 weeks after birth. New moms get to decide when and on which terms they want to do some work again (i.e. if they want to start working part-time before the 24 weeks, they’re free to do so).
  2. For our new dads, we’ll rely on our unlimited vacation policy (along with the general freedom and flexibility afforded by our remote working culture), which means they can take as much time off as they need to support their spouse and be with their newborn. As with any other leave covered by our unlimited vacation policy, this is fully paid.
  3. We’ll go one step further to support new dads too… In the event that their spouse for example only gets 12 weeks of paid maternity leave (from their company), we will give our dads the difference of our paid leave available (i.e. 28 weeks minus 12 weeks). This allows their spouse to go back to work and dads to take on greater responsibility during those initial few months.
  4. If there is any kind of government subsidy available, the new parent will apply for that and we will offset that against their salary covered by the paid leave. This helps the company’s cash flow and alleviates governments of some of the taxes that those individuals have paid them. :)
  5. The same opportunities apply to new parents that adopt or who use surrogates. If parents are adopting older children, we will use a sliding scale to dial back to paid leave available (babies probably need more hands-on attention than a 7-year-old).
  6. We see the family as a unit and whenever we need to consider the merit of a situation, we’ll consider the impact on the whole family; not just our team member.

The various members of our team had different interests or perspectives in this regard: 5 out of 14 team members are female, some of us already have kids, some welcomed kids into the world in the last year and some are unlikely to want to have kids. One of our primary goals for this would be that we wanted the company to adapt to an individual’s needs, just like we expect individuals to adapt to company or team needs from time-to-time.

We all felt that this framework was a good start. Even writing it down feels like we’re prioritising our families — and our lives — beyond just work.

Our framework has not been stress-tested yet since we haven’t welcomed new babies to the Conversio family since putting this in place. With this in mind, I have no doubt that we will learn about imperfections in this framework and we are likely to iterate on this in the years ahead.

What has however been important for us to communicate our intentions and expectations to each other, because that is what creates the safe space for us to live and work together as a team. Removing the fear and uncertainty about “What happens with my work if I have a baby?” or “What will my teammates think of me if I tell them I’m considering adoption?” is critical in assisting every individual to still their minds, do their best work and live the lives they want.

How much of that fear, uncertainty and unspoken resentment might be present in your team and business? Is your team clear about their expectations of and hope for each other?

Our decision has been to get out and ahead of this one.

We’re a family- and life-first company and we simply can’t wait to welcome new, young members to our extended family and team.

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