The topic of caretakers in the workplace is one that’s often shied away from, perhaps due to concern about laws around employee protection or suppressed by general hesitation in touching on these themes. And anyway, it’s not a particularly data-oriented topic, or is it?
In the nearly 1.5 years that I’ve been with RJMetrics I know of 3 new pets, 10 babies or pregnancies, and 10 weddings. This unscientifically collected data points to a workforce that is changing and taking on new responsibilities in their personal lives. Whether it’s a glamorous topic or not, at RJMetrics we’re finding ourselves face-to-face with figuring out how to build a company that attracts and retains more women and caretakers.
It takes flexibility
In my first post in this series I did some thinking about what it looks like to be a mother in tech. I boiled it down to one key driver — flexibility. Ok, I know, that’s a generic overused term, so I’ll be more specific. For me, flexibility means that I, and other people in the company, have room to juggle all the unexpected interruptions that come with being a parent.
This flexibility manifests itself in a variety of scenarios. For example, one of my team members, Sarah, shared her experience of flexibility after her recent engagement:
“The second I mentioned I was getting married, the people around me were thrilled. The immediate question was not ‘When’s your honeymoon? How long are you taking off?’ I did not hear a single question that would instill anxiety.”
That is what flexibility looks like, not in policy form, but embedded in a culture. And I think this is something special. In the knowledge economy, where talented tech professionals are at a premium, any of us managing a tech company needs to know what matters to our staff and how to accommodate the space they need for their lives.
We don’t profess to have this all figured out. Recently I took a look at the current gender balance of our team:
Our numbers mirror the demographic breakdown of the tech industry as a whole and align with the 70/30 male to female ratio found at companies like Google, Apple, and Twitter, who – by the way – have spent a lot more resources on this issue. But we believe we can (and need!) to do a lot better.
Why this matters now more than ever
We’ve been on a hiring spree for well over a year. Figuring out how to build a workplace that welcomes marriage, mothers, and caretakers — male or female — is critical for us to be able to continue to fill our open positions. We believe the best way for us to be successful in attracting and retaining the best talent out there is to widen our funnel of potential candidates that want to apply.
This is going to take a little more creativity than our usual steps of posting to LinkedIn, tapping our networks, and offering an employee referral bonus. Of course, we are the company that does unusual recruiting stuff like running these ads on Septa:
We’re also a company that empowers people like me to run with this idea. My goal for this series is not only to widen our funnel, but to educate other companies’ leaders on what cultural things can go a long way towards employee attraction and retention, and perhaps most importantly, to challenge parents and parents to-be to question their assumptions about what being a parent and working in tech is like.
My KPI for this series is to improve our 70/30 split by the end of the year. I’m excited to see how we’ll be doing in 12 months from now and you’re welcome to follow along on the journey by subscribing to the blog.
P.S. Why the name “Startup Parenthood”
In my experience, the people that recommend reading books for learning about parenthood are the same kinds of people that recommend writing a five year business plan for your new business venture. Sure, it’s a nice idea, but things rarely work out so neatly.
In the 3 years I’ve been a parent and the 17 years I’ve been working in tech, I’ve found that I like the same thing about both of them — it’s a constant experiment. I view parenting like running a startup: I’m always looking for the right mix of responsibilities, tactics, emotions, and structure that allows for the greatest sense of joy and equilibrium. It rarely looks like “work-life balance”, but the end result is a full, crazy, fun life.
I’m also tweeting about my work (and life) moments using #StartupParenthood. Feel free to join in the conversation.