The family-friendly startup is possible. Here’s how you build one.
“How do you balance startup life with being a mom?”
That is the single most common question that I get asked as a working mom who has chosen a career in early stage startups. For years, my honest answer was, “I don’t.” It was just the nature of the business: a startup demands everything of you and more often than not, everything else comes in a distant second.
In 2013, I had my first son while working as a startup marketing consultant. I loved helping build companies at their founding moments, but it also meant that I didn’t have the benefit of paid maternity leave. As our due date approached, my husband and I planned and saved, but living in San Francisco didn’t leave us with too much wiggle room. My only option was to return to consulting just five short weeks after giving birth.
Unfortunately, my story is far too common for families across the U.S. I missed out on the recovery time and devoted one-on-one bonding time I knew that he and I both needed, but I told myself I had to accept it and get back to work — not just to make ends meet, but to protect the career I had worked so hard to build.
There’s a better way.
Fast forward a few years, and my experience of balancing startup life and motherhood has changed in nearly every way. The change began when I joined Collective Health. Beyond being amazed by the powerful mission Ali and Rajaie shared to improve the experience we all face as we navigate and pay for healthcare, I quickly learned that the company they were building was different at its core.
It all began with my interview experience — which was filled with moments that stood out. Interviewing with the formidable Kristin Baker-Spohn, our Chief Commercial Officer, was one of these moments. She wowed me with her insights on our market opportunity, but also with what I’d soon learn was baby bump number two. It was an uncommon sight in the startup world that I knew so well. Also uncommon were the giant baby pictures adorning desk after desk as I walked around the office. When I found out that printing these pictures was a tradition to welcome new moms and dads back to the office after leave, I was sold.
When I was lucky enough to get the offer to join, we were a Series B startup with 50 or so employees and one client. I was a mom of a busy two year-old, and came on board optimistic that finally working for a CEO with young children meant things would be a little bit better than before. I’d hoped he’d understand that face time at the office wasn’t everything, but face time at home was.
19 months later, I am so grateful I made the choice I did. Collective Health is now a team of 240+, we’ve raised another round of funding, we have 15 clients and 70,000 members — and as for me, I welcomed our second son to the world just 15 weeks ago. And, it’s all going better than I could have ever imagined.
It’s not rocket science. It’s leadership.
Collective Health has proven building a family-friendly startup isn’t the stuff of mythology — or that it requires waiting until the 1,000 employee mark to make progress. By setting the tone at the top with little things (and big, keep reading), like taking a half day off to see his daughter’s talent show, Ali has made it clear our company culture values family and empathy in all we do. You can see the results of this deliberate prioritization in our diversity, the number of growing families and new moms and dads we have on our team, and in how we build our product. These small and large examples set the bar for all of us to follow and are making us a better business.
Don’t just take my word for it, here are a few proof-points:
- Progressive family leave: Despite our stage, we offer three months paid parental leave, coupled with a four month flexible return to work program for all new parents. Altogether that’s seven months of paid leave — a bold commitment our Head of People (and new mom herself), Jude Komuves, helped us make as a leadership team.
- Parents leading by example: The majority of our leadership team has children, and many of our children are under the age of 10, with plenty of babies and toddlers in the mix. This means we set the tone at the top — when there’s a parent teacher conference at 4pm, we attend. When the flu hits, we head home. Our teams see this and feel supported when the same things come up for them.
- 1:1 gender ratio: Across Collective Health, our gender ratio is 1:1. Preserving this ratio is no easy feat, but critical to its lasting power is a family leave policy that keeps working moms (and dads) coming back to a supportive work environment.
- Families multiply: A quarter of our employees have families and we see this number growing with every month. The baby pictures are everywhere.
This marks my first month back at Collective Health from my 12-week maternity leave, and the beginning of my flexible return to work. I’ve relished every moment at home, and not a day goes by where I don’t recognize the long-term benefit that having a family-focused employer (and boss) gives me and my family.
Your people need support, and so does your business.
I’m not alone in my viewpoint that paid maternity leave is essential. In a recent study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Collective Health, we found that while 85 percent of Americans surveyed consider paid maternity leave important, over half (53 percent) deem it “absolutely essential.” Over a third said the same for paid paternity leave.
And it’s not just a soft benefit. It adds up to hard costs for employers who don’t respond. New mothers who take paid leave are more likely than mothers who do not take any leave to be working again nine to 12 months after childbirth, and first-time mothers who take paid leave are more likely than those who take unpaid leave or no leave to return to the same employer. Put it this way: Can your startup afford to lose top talent you’ve invested in when they begin their families? I’m one of these mothers, and I am so grateful to be working for a startup that understands that supporting parents is better for business.
Taking care of working families — moms, dads, caregivers — should become the standard and not the exception. Startup leaders: you can take steps now to support your business by supporting your people. We’d love to share our lessons learned on instituting these family-focused policies as we grow, so feel free to reach out anytime to us at hello@collectivehealth.